The Timbers front office would like to clarify several things regarding Major League Soccer’s rules on stadium signage deemed political, specifically the ban of the Iron Front symbol, given the recent increased media attention of the policy and the amount of misinformation being disseminated. Hopefully this will answer some questions, serve as a basis for reasonable discourse and provide greater clarity for all our supporters and those that have reached out with concerns and inquiries.
The Portland Timbers stand steadfast against fascism. We always have and we always will. Our actions supporting inclusion, diversity and acceptance for more than a decade speak for themselves, as does the freedom we have always given our supporters to express themselves at our matches. To suggest anything else is patently false and offensive.
A supporter at a Timbers match can continue to hoist a banner or display specifically denouncing fascism (e.g. “anti-fascist”) while they wear a t-shirt, pin and scarf with the Iron Front symbol on it. What a supporter cannot do under the new MLS Fan Code of Conduct (more on this later) is wave a banner or any larger display that includes the Iron Front symbol. Why is that? And what is the Iron Front and its political (or perceived) affiliation?
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. Despite its origins dating back to fascism opposition in World War II-era Germany and elsewhere, today most of the broader public are unaware of the Iron Front and its historic meaning. Instead it is widely associated with its frequent use by antifa, often in the context of violence at protests or counter protests. The Iron Front symbol is clearly different than a national symbol like the American flag, that some have tried to argue has been misappropriated by certain groups.
The Timbers 100% oppose fascism and steadfastly stand against violence. People can agree on a set of principles but disagree on how to achieve their shared goals. Violence should never be the answer. More so, we have a responsibility to promote safety for all our guests and to promote inclusion in Providence Park. We have received much feedback from those uncomfortable with antifa symbols being displayed at our games and strong support from many of our members for the league’s updated policy.
As we have always said, we have the best supporters in sports. We greatly value the relationship we have with the Timbers Army and the Rose City Riveters, and we have always listened to and respected their views on matters on and off the pitch. We also understand why the issues around the Iron Front flag are so meaningful to many of our supporters and find ourselves mostly aligned.
For the better part of last season and well into this season we have been engaged in dialogue with the elected leadership group of the Timbers Army, the 107ist, on the new MLS Fan Code of Conduct and how it applies across the league and here in Portland. The issuance of the new code of conduct was accepted by the TA and other supporters groups around the league as a necessary step and most of the general parameters were acceptable and agreed upon. The 107ist agreed that banners promoting political candidates or political measures at Timbers games should not be allowed.
What comes into question is what is considered political and what is more broadly a human rights issue? The sport of soccer has long been a stage for support of human rights causes, and the Timbers and MLS, as a league, have fought racism, homophobia and promoted inclusion. Additionally, under the new rules teams in MLS do continue to have some discretion locally over what is deemed broader human rights in their respective markets. The Portland Timbers fought hard for that.
We have always taken a particularly liberal view of what are human rights. The Timbers and Thorns public endorsement of Oregon marriage equality laws in 2014 caused a fair amount of backlash and was the first time any pro team has supported such a measure to our knowledge (the Trail Blazers, to their credit, also endorsed the measure after we did). Today we believe that gun control is also something that has moved into the human rights spectrum.
Major League Soccer believes the Iron Front symbol is inherently political because it has been co-opted by antifa. The solution that allows for specific denouncement of fascism on banners (as well as continued acceptance of personal apparel choices), in lieu of the Iron Front symbol, is more than fair. It clearly allows for those wanting to decry fascism at games to do so. Some rooted in this issue simply focus on the Iron Front banner ban as censorship and others look at it as an opportunity for protest. We believe if you step back and understand the issue, we are on very firm and equitable ground that achieves the desired approach to clearly denounce fascism. And the risk of a slippery slope of more prohibited expression is not a course we will allow. We didn’t make the rule banning the Iron Front on signs but we understand it and support it.
Some have asked why the Timbers are enforcing an MLS rule at NWSL and USL games. Neither league has a Supporter Code of Conduct. All of our operational staff for Providence Park games are the same. Having different rules for different teams creates confusion among staff and for fans alike. We also believe that what is allowed, for those wishing to trumpet opposition to fascism at MLS games, is also a fair and reasonable approach for Thorns and T2 games.
We believe that our incredible supporters and Timbers, Thorns and T2 matches at Providence Park continue to represent all that is good when it comes to the beautiful game, our teams and our community. Sports are a powerful unifying force for our community and help promote human rights and bridge divisions, and we are proud to continue our role here in Portland, Oregon. Onward Rose City!
The Timbers Front Office