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Major League Soccer

D.C. United chief denies Nowak directed racial remark at opponent.

Peter Nowak
Peter Nowak was accused of making a racially insensitive comment, something that was denied by D.C. United.
-- D.C. United web site photo --
By Gary Davidson

(Sunday, February 19, 2006) -- D.C. United's top official strongly denied that his club's head coach Peter Nowak had directed a racially insensitive remark toward the Real Salt Lake bench regarding one of its players during a Major League Soccer preseason exhibition game between the teams Friday in Bradenton, Fla.

"In our view, this incident is 100 percent a misunderstanding," United chief executive officer and president Kevin Payne said in a statement posted on an Internet bulletin board. "Those people that know Peter know that such a comment would be completely at odds with his character."

In the fourth minute of a physical match, St. Kitts-Nevis international striker Atiba Harris, who is on trial by RSL, picked up a yellow card for a hard tackle. Nowak allegedly yelled, "Send him back to Africa," at the Salt Lake bench, regarding Harris.

Nowak expressed indignation to The Washington Post. "I'm really, really hurt about people saying this," he said. "Everybody knows the history in my country (Poland), about human rights, the Germans, our struggle. Someone who accuses me of this is embarrassing."

In his Internet post, Payne claimed Nowak was misunderstood. "Peter Nowak has categorically denied making comments during Friday's exhibition match anything like those attributed to him by Real Salt Lake. The D.C United personnel who were on the bench at the time, including me, heard no such comment nor anything like it. In an angry response directed at the referee following the third reckless and dangerous tackle by a Real Salt Lake player, Peter did shout that the player needed to be, 'Sent back to hospital!' Among those on the D.C. bench, who heard this clearly, were several African-American players.

"The Real Salt Lake technical staff reacted, at that moment, as a group, apparently misunderstanding what Peter had said. D.C. United has confirmed with (the United States Soccer Federation) that the match officials also heard nothing like Real Salt Lake is alleging to have been said, despite the fact that the senior assistant referee working the match was within a few feet of Peter when RSL believes they heard the comment in question."

To conclude a radio interview on the "Hatch and Fox Show" on KZNS 1280-AM in Salt Lake City, RSL coach John Ellinger was specifically asked whether Nowak had yelled, "Send him back to Africa."

"You're in the ballpark," Ellinger replied.

Earlier in the interview, Ellinger said, "Obviously, it's hard to comment publicly about it, that Peter made some inappropriate comments, and we'll let upper management deal with those issues. But, obviously, it's in the heat of the moment and you're responsible for what comes out of your mouth, as you know, but Peter's got to obviously deal with his management group. In fact, one of them was sitting on the bench during the game, so obviously everybody heard it, what he said.

"I think for him, it's something he's going to have to deal with. It's not for me to say at this point, but it's pretty discouraging for our players, as well as his players at the same time."

A phone message left for a D.C. United official was not returned, so what Nowak would mean by a comment that a player should be 'Sent back to hospital!' was not immediately explained.

Nowak is known for his volatile demeanor, his strong personality considered an important component to his coaching success with United, as well as a long, highly successful playing career that ended in MLS with the Chicago Fire. Nowak, the native of Poland, speaks with an accent and, at times, is difficult to understand when he speaks English.

Gary Davidson is SoccerTimes managing editor. E-mail Gary Davidson.

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