Nothing personal. It’s just business.

21 Aug 2019 6:08 PM | Jennifer Ingraham (Administrator)

The following is a post from Sheba Rawson.

I have been struggling to come to terms with what has happened between the supporters I love and the front office of the team I love. How did we get to this place? Why are we in such a contentious space — all over a flag with a circle and three arrows on it?

On its face, it seems absurd. As a 107IST board member since 2011, I’ve had the privilege of working with the same small core of front office members. Over the years, we have had a mostly positive working relationship. They are good humans; I believe that on a personal level they do generally share our ethos in the sense that I firmly believe they are opposed to racism, fascism, white nationalism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. And given the current political climate, I’m sure they agree, generally speaking, that there are horrifying things happening out there in the wide world that they oppose. Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, and people of color are on the rise. Children are being separated from their parents at the border and put in cages under horrific conditions. Hate groups march in our very own streets. They agree that a philosophy that relies on nationalism, racism, rejection of the other, and silencing of dissent is abhorrent. And yet they refuse to let us fly a flag that is the very symbol of resistance to those beliefs.

How did we get here?

As I reflected and tried to wrap my brain around it, I thought about the working relationship we as 107IST board members and the front office have had over the years. It has mostly been positive and productive, especially when we focus on things that we both have in common: We want the men (and since 2013, the women) on the pitch to be successful, and we both care about the community. When we focus on those things, we generally get a lot done. Look at the front office work with Operation Pitch Invasion. Look at the space we have built, grown, and preserved over time in the stadium to provide passionate support for our teams, with smoke, tifo, drums, trumpets, and flags. These things work best when we are of common purpose. We are extremely grateful to have such a positive working relationship. It allows both the club and the supporters to work together toward unprecedented success.

Then I thought about the times we have had our run-ins. The time very early in our MLS history that the front office sold a front office scarf with “No Pity” on it. The time that people popped flares in Rio Tinto and received match bans at home, while at the same time MLS used a picture of the spectacle in the stands in their marketing. The time several years back when the front office briefly floated the idea of carving out a slice of the North End to be reserved seats. The time a couple of years back that a front office line of clothing came out with a couple of items that looked uncomfortably close to items from our own No Pity Originals line.

And then it hit me: Nearly every time we have gone sideways with the front office, it is because — even though we both love our teams and love our town — there are times when we do not share common purpose.

Our purpose is to be the greatest football supporters the world has ever seen. We support soccer in and around Portland, from the grassroots to the highest professional level. And we support Team, Town, and Timbers Army & Riveters.

But the teams themselves — the Timbers and the Thorns — are businesses. Their purpose is to operate in such a way so that they can remain in business.

These purposes do not always align. Each purpose has merit, and often, the two overlap in wonderfully satisfying ways. But sometimes, as now, they do not.

I am grateful for their existence: If they hadn’t been here when they were, the USL Timbers might have ceased to exist. Their purpose — and there is no shame in their freely admitting this — is to make a profit.

And you know what? Sometimes that purpose is at odds with ours, which is totally normal and to be expected. There will always be times when a business owner or business group sees a way to maximize short-term profits that may or may not coincide with the interests of the people who frequent that business. That is when we as supporters feel the rub, and that is when we get into hard spaces that we have to work our way out of in order to get back to the strong, solid, common ground we have, which is supporting the teams and the town.

When I thought about it THAT way, it strangely hurt a lot less.

This isn’t personal, Sheba. It’s just business.

The most obvious evidence of this when it comes to the Iron Front symbol is that it is perfectly acceptable to wear on one’s person in the stadium, just don’t fly it on a flag or hold it up on a banner. The official statement Monday made this point crystal clear to me:

For obvious reasons banners and signs are widely visible to the broader stadium and television audience and thusly fall under a different set of guidelines.

“Obvious reasons.” What could those “obvious reasons” possibly be?

There’s only one answer: television audiences. You can’t easily discern the Iron Front logo on a T-shirt on your TV screen at home or at the local sports bar, but you can definitely make it out on a 9x12 flag waving in the stands.

And when you think of it that way, all the rest of the noise falls away. Clearly, the front office and/or the league has decided that it is bad for business to have the Iron Front image visible on TV. What led to that decision? Who knows. Maybe some right-wing owner or league business partner saw the flag waving in some B-roll of the Timbers Army used in some MLS commercial and vaguely remembered it from some Fox News scare piece he’d seen. Maybe somebody pointed it out to some owner or league official when Seattle folks got booted for flying their “Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist, Always Seattle” banner in Vancouver awhile back. Whatever the reason, sometime between 2017 and 2018 somebody with money saw that flag flying in our stands, and they didn’t like it. And at that point the league, and by extension our front office, had to make a business decision — and that is exactly what the Iron Front flag ban clearly is.

Here’s the thing about business decisions: They are usually gambles, based on predictions of how the market will react. I don’t envy business people. They have to make tough calls all the time. Will the public buy more of our product if we do x as opposed to y? How much should I invest in the business in the short term in hopes of yielding a bigger return later? Is this the right price point? How do I appeal to the widest audience?

Here’s the other thing about business decisions: If they look like they are wrong, you can always reverse them, because they aren’t actually based on moral principles. They are based on what is best for the bottom line. And again, there is no shame in a business admitting that this is what they do. 

Once I thought of the Iron Front decision in this light, it was a lot easier to think it through. The decision to not allow the flag to fly didn’t have to have anything to do with deeply held moral values (though I do believe the individuals working in the front office hold strong, positive moral values): This was about the bottom line. Someone somewhere thinks that flying the Iron Front flag is bad for business.

And if that is true, then our course of action is also clear.

Look, I LOVE working with the front office on behalf of supporters. Our front office is TREMENDOUS to work with. They have afforded us opportunities that few supporter groups can claim. Opportunity to set up pretty complicated riggings for tifo. Smoke. Drums. Trumpets. Capo stands. And, most importantly, a good-sized chunk of the stadium that is general admission, which allows for new folks to be welcomed in with friends, to learn chants and song alongside more experienced people, to learn to love the game alongside its most ardent supporters, and to become Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters. To Get. Stuck In.

So. YES. THANK YOU, front office, for being a tremendous business partner to work with.

But you know what?

We are pretty fucking tremendous SUPPORTERS to work with.

We provide the front office with the most organized supporters the league has ever seen. Other front offices from around the league and even in other major league sports come to us to ask how to get the kind of supporters our front office has. We are legion. We are passionate. We are dedicated. We are inclusive. We get it done — in the stands and on the streets. Our support is second to none.

And you know what? We are GOOD FOR BUSINESS. And that is okay with me ... as long as it also aligns with our ethos and with our mission.

Here’s where I think our front office really went wrong on this one: They simply made a bad business decision. They assumed that a mere symbol on a flag could be taken away with very little business cost from us, in exchange for money, goodwill, whatever it was from whoever in the league or its partners was offended by the image on the screen.

When we get into these tight spots, it is not unusual for one of the folks in the front office to shout in exasperation something like: “Would you like to be working with [horrible MLS ownership group] instead?” And my (usually unstated) response is: “No, of course not. Would you rather be working with [horrible MLS supporter group] instead?”

And if this is a business decision with which we disagree, our course of action is simple: Persuade the front office that this is a bad business decision so that they can change course. There are several ways to do this, of course, including refusing to purchase food and beverages in the stadium, refusing season ticket renewals, and the like. These might or might not make a dent in a stadium that has a waiting list in the thousands for season tickets.

But the biggest reason we are such an amazing business asset for this club is our passionate support in the stands.

We joke about being part of MLS marketing. How crowd shots of the Timbers Army are used in ad campaigns for tournaments we aren’t even in. We know that our passion is good for business.

So if our ethos is only worth supporting when it’s good for business, let’s make sure that not supporting our ethos is bad for business. You want to silence us in the stands? Fine. Let’s show them what silence sounds like. You want to reign in our visual displays in the stands? Fine. Let’s show them what that looks like. You want to control the message of those full, raucous stands? Fine. We'll show you what an empty stand looks like. I’m pretty sure they won’t like what they see.

I hate that we are having to go down this road. But if this is just a business, we have to treat it like one. And that breaks my heart just a little. I always thought we were Més Que Un Club, but maybe I was mistaken. Come on, Timbers front office. Prove me wrong. Please.

Comments

  • 21 Aug 2019 10:31 PM | Larry Shaw
    agreed, this is 100% a business decision and will only be solved with a(n) (anti)business decision! i will not walkout on a game because that diminishes realtime support for the boys. i also will not give up my season ticket as it also diminishes support for the boys and means i lose something i love very much. i will however:

    1. refuse to stand, sing and wave my scarf during the national anthem (as i've done at every home game this year).
    2. not purchase any club merch or in-stadium food and drink and also get in line for food and drink, and when it's time to order, not order anything and let the cashier know the reason.
    3. will email and call my ticket rep letting him know exactly what i'm doing and my estimate of how much money they'll not be making from me in the future.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 5:33 AM | Travis C.
      A walkout is the only thing that would grab the attention of the FO, and of the nation at large. It's all about visibility and the FO not wanting to rock the boat. An empty TA will send a message that when it comes to standing against fascism and censorship, the TA's stance is extremely clear. We are an open, welcoming environment because people feel safe and welcome. This last weekend showed the perfect example of the risk of White Nationalist rhetoric and why nonviolent protest should never be silenced by anyone.

      In 1933, the Iron Front was banned by the Nazis. Maybe the 33rd minute is time to state loud and clear, We Will Not Be Silenced.
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  • 22 Aug 2019 10:08 AM | Timbers Fan, 107th member, Portlander.
    You've missed one point: You don't speak for all Timbers supporters - you may see the flag as a pure, non-political representation of an anti-racist ethos, but that's not how it's seen by everyone. The "your with us or against us" position the 107th has taken is further dividing timbers supporters. As the FO statement said: We can have flags/banners/etc that speak to the strongly anti-racists, inclusive nature of the supporters club, but dying on the antifa hill only further proves the real motivations behind this position. I'm sure my middle of the ground position will only be met with "Your a nazi" responses, further proving my point.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 11:05 AM | A happy snowman
      You're my fucking hero for saying this. Thank you. The 107ist are behaving like petulant children that want to hold their breath because their favorite toy got taken away, and refuse to see any sort of middle ground. A million times thank you, Timbers Fan.
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      • 22 Aug 2019 4:07 PM | Mark Herrick
        YES! this exactly. I bring my family to the games. We do not want to go to a political rally. Go protest downtown. All of the people I go to games with love the fact that the TA is all about love and inclusion. You are trying to drag politics and support for fringe political groups into PP. There are no Nazis here, no fascists. Just love and support for the TEAM(s).
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        • 05 Sep 2019 7:54 PM | SouthDeck Supporter
          Hey Mark - news flash..... Anti Fascism is NOT political. If you see fascism - or the fight against it - as political, you need to do some serious soul searching. (or educate yourself - AND your family!!!!)

          The Iron Front flag is NOT SUPPORT for any political group! The Iron Front flag is, by design and invention, to stand against fascism and the Nazi regime. If you can't get behind THAT - you have no soul.

          You are either actively opposing racism and fascism..... or you are supporting it. There is no middle ground.
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          • 28 Sep 2019 9:51 PM | Dissenting TA
            Actually, it is political. Fascism is political and Antifascism is political. If you go down this road of allowing politics in our stands, then that not only makes it a big fat target for far right groups, and it also opens the door for more political banners in the stands. I reject the "with us or against us" remark. The antidote to Fascism isn't Antifa, it's individuals being decent human beings. Antifa and the black bloc promote violence, and a lot of us aren't about to associate the TA with that. Either the 107ist needs to wake up, or the dissenting voices will start another supporter group.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 11:10 AM | Augustina Elizabeth
      The Iron front flag is not an "antifa" symbol as you're interpreting it...although it is an anti fascist symbol. It is only people that buy into the toxic right wing rhetoric about the flag and its meaning that have issue with it. I don't always agree with the tactics of the "antifa" organization but the entire city of Portland is Antifa by default. We don't like Fascists and we're very vocal about it. That includes flying the United Front flag. So while YOU may have objection to the flag because you're buying into rhetoric, you're in the minority on this one. The front office ban on the flag is an affront to our values as supporters and we should protest in a way that makes them listen. If the almighty dollar is what they worship than we shall take ours away.
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      • 22 Aug 2019 11:14 AM | Augustina Elizabeth
        Here is some background for the "middle of the road" folks

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Front
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      • 22 Aug 2019 11:29 AM | Timbers supporter
        I know the history of the flag, I know what antifa is and is not. I've been very left leaning my whole life - I'm also very anti-violence. - There's a difference between "anti-Fascist" and "Anitfa". I cannot condone violence, or supporting an organization who openly supports violence. Again, as much as you'd like to frame this as "one side or the other" it's not. I'm not "Antifa" and still I'm Anti-Fascist. I'm not right wing, I don't support trump, but that doesn't mean I support violence against others to further my political views. Defending Antifa as "mostly good" allows the message to get lost - if the goal is to support and represent diversity and a clear anti-racist message, then at least consider that your losing some supporters when attaching this message to a group who is not anti-violence, regardless of the justification they give. I get the spirit of all this, but the absolute-ness of the position isn't helping.
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        • 22 Aug 2019 11:42 PM | who cares lol
          It doesn't matter if you're anti-violence. Violence is happening. People are being thrown in cages for existing. Fascism is committing violence against people here in our country, in our state, in our city. Antifa is not an organization of any kind. It is literally just an abbreviation for anti-fascist. The way that you manifest being antifa might be different from other peoples', sure. But sometimes, fascists pose a violent threat to our communities and anti-fascists are forced to take a violent stand against that, whether they like it or, as is overwhelmingly the case, not. I honestly don't know how anybody thinks the Iron Front is a political symbol. It is a symbol of unification for people who believe fascism is bad. Being anti-Iron Front is being anti-anti-fascist. Being anti-anti-fascist is, you guessed it, being fascist. It's pretty cut and dry.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 11:16 AM | Alex
      Antifa is an abbreviation for anti-fascist. Nothing more, nothing less.

      The Iron Front is an anti-Nazi symbol used by anti-fascist activists of all types for nearly 100 years. Period.

      Banning an anti-Nazi symbol normalizes fascism and sends a message that bigotry ought to be a subject for debate. You cannot be both opposed to bigotry, racism, and fascism and be OK with this ban. There is no middle fucking ground.
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      • 22 Aug 2019 11:32 AM | Supporter
        You can keep saying that, but it won't make it true - If it's about expressing opposition to bigotry, racism, and fascism why not have a flag that says that specifically?
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        • 22 Aug 2019 12:52 PM | Goguners
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          • 22 Aug 2019 4:40 PM | Daniel
            EXACTLY. They aren’t just banning the iron front, they are banning any visible “anti-fascist” message, full stop. Because in the age of Trump, the goalposts have been moved so much that being anti-fascist is now “potentially offensive political speech,” not merely a message of pro-basic human rights. Centrists on this issue can fucking bite me.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 1:12 PM | Sherrilynn Rawson (Administrator)
      People of good will can disagree. I respect that you don't understand the stance we've taken, or the rationale I've laid out here.

      I would gently suggest that you also consider the possibility that ignoring those among us who are harassed and frightened daily in the atmosphere of hate that is rising in the outside world would ALSO be divisive. Saying "sure, what's one anti-fascist symbol, no big deal, go ahead and take it away" sends a message to the most vulnerable among us that THEIR real concerns aren't THAT important to me. That is also divisive, just in a different way.

      I have every reason to believe that to acquiesce this time means I have to acquiesce next time. And every time I do, I give white supremacists and other extreme hate groups a clear message that they are just a LITTLE BIT MORE WELCOME than they were before.

      I'm sorry, but I cannot give that sort of hate any quarter. I respect that you disagree with me; believe me, the last thing I want to do is fight this fight. I'd MUCH rather live in a world where I can banter about Seattle smelling like fish. But my heart convicts me to stand up for those who are under attack, daily. That means giving fascists NO quarter. I can do no less.
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      • 23 Aug 2019 7:44 AM | RSL FAN 420
        I agree with you wholeheartedly. This is a fight that no one wants, but the tide of hate is rising and giving even an inch to those bastards pushing it is not an option.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 4:30 PM | Love my Timbers
      Thank you! I completely agree.
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  • 22 Aug 2019 2:28 PM | soccerfan1
    Eagerly awaiting the clownshow of alleged supporters walking away from their club tomorrow night. I'll be enjoying every second of the match from my seat at the stadium while enjoying some food and drink from the concession stands.
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    • 22 Aug 2019 10:35 PM | Augustina Elizabeth
      WOW, there is an example of community support..."clown show" huh? Bet you've never been afraid to walk down the street because neo nazis invaded your city. Welcome to my reality, and the reality of many. Stand together means more than just supporting soccer clubs
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      • 23 Aug 2019 7:10 AM | soccerfan1
        Don't care. I'm a sports fan, period. That's all I attend sporting events for, entertainment. That's all it is, like a movie or a tv show, a concert or a play.
        I've yet to see a neo Nazi in Portland, but have seen some in the north end exhibit the behavior of fascists.(Do as we say or else) but really who takes cowards seriously? (cowards meaning any alleged neo nazi in 2019 as well as those in north end who threaten others to obey or else)
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  • 25 Aug 2019 9:51 AM | bc
    The Buddhist Swastika, denoting good luck and originating in the 6th century BC, was claimed by the Nazi party and used to promote fascism and discrimination. The symbols can look a lot alike and at one point in my life I interpreted the Buddhist symbol as the Nazi symbol.

    I can see how a there is a percentage of people (wrongly) interpreting the Iron Front logo as an Antifa symbol. Right or wrong when the Iron Front symbol is seen flying on a flag in the TA it could, to some viewers, look like it's promoting the Antifa cause. Obviously the TA, MLS and FO can't get behind that and to avoid misperception the MLS/ FO have put policy in place to avoid the misunderstandings that are bound to happen.

    I can see how the MLS and FO see is this symbol is something that Antifa has "claimed" or "stole" just like the nazis "stole" the buddhist swastika..

    There are lots of ways to stand up for what is right and getting side tracked with this protest is, in my opinion, ridiculous and because of the reaction of TA PTFC fell 3 points to the Sounders, missed taking back the Cascade Cup and took all of the energy out of what could have been the best game of the year.

    I think TA made your point and hope you are over this so you can start focusing your energy on other ways to promote non discrimination and inclusion for all that doesn't have any chance of being misunderstood...

    Thanks.
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    • 25 Aug 2019 11:30 PM | 105npr
      The Iron Front logo *is* an antifa symbol. We *are* promoting the anti-fascism cause, i.e. opposing fascism. That’s the point. We’re not down with fascism. I hope we don’t start singing for Merritt if the policy doesn’t get fixed first.
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  • 30 Sep 2019 5:59 AM | Anonymous
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