Real Salt Lake Focused On Becoming Effective Advocates For Change
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The tragic passing of George Flloyd in 2020 sparked a conversation within the Real Salt Lake organization. Education surrounding equality, diversity, and racism was required for the club to progress and further develop as an organization.
Adapt & Prosper
Assistant General Manager was approached by interim President John Kimball to headline the initiative. He then spoke with leaders from various departments to determine a cause of action. One of those employees was the Director of Academy Coaching Arnold Rijsenburg, one of just two black Academy Directors in Major League Soccer.
The movement started at the Academy level, as it so often does, with the Academy kids undertaking a 10-week program by the name of RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality). During this program, the young teenagers aged 14 and older learned the importance of acceptance, love, and differences.
“The boys know that they cannot say certain things because they will hurt a teammate and that has grown the respect,” Rijsenburg told KSL Sports. “Before they [the Academy players] say something they will think which I think is a very good sign.”
The RISE Program
The impact the program had on the Academy was monumental. In fact, it took Rijsenberg and Beltran by shock, so much so that they decided to make the program mandatory for the entire organization.
“It was a success for a number of reasons. First and foremost because of the gentleman that runs the program, Doctor Andrew Macintosh. He really is phenomenal and impressive. He did a fantastic job of creating a safe space for us to have these difficult and challenging conversations,” Beltran said.
The game of soccer has had a history of slander throughout its rather dark history. Late last year there was a racial slur spoken in a PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir Champions League fixture that involved a Romanian fourth official. Then, just recently the Real Monarchs were involved when an Austin Bold player allegedly used a homophobic slur towards a member of the Monarchs team.
Soccer has forever been crippled by racism and defamation helping forge RSL as a club to protect the beautiful game from further future damage.
The RISE Program allowed people of all different ages to experience and communicate with one and another the impact such cruelty can have on the world. Beltran referenced how groups throughout the organization would continue to discuss such sensitive subjects even after the class had concluded, giving him further reasoning to believe the education was successful.
Fortunately, the support from the league, club, and members of the community has provided Rijsenburg a platform to preach equity and equality. Rijsenburg has traveled the world through the game of soccer and on countless occasions has been at the mercy of racism. In fact, while in Belgium he was a finalist for a head coaching job before being told deep into the interview process that “the club is not ready to have a black manager.”
The support that the United States has provided Rijsenburg has been monumental. He now feels brave enough to stand up for himself, for his family, and to not accept anything other than equality and social justice. He feels alive and he has never been happier.
A Celebration Worthwhile
RSL, along with the rest of the league, will celebrate June 19 or Juneteenth; a federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States of America and has been celebrated since 1866.
On Friday, June 18, against Vancouver Whitecaps at Rio Tinto Stadium RSL will “honor and celebrate Juneteenth,” the club stated on their website. The players will wear special kits that will be auctioned following the conclusion of the fixture with proceeds going towards The African Stars; a youth soccer club in Salt Lake City made up of refugees.
Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. against Vancouver and will be available to stream for free via the KSL 5 TV app or on KSL Sports dot com.