When Fire fans turn on the WGN broadcast of the match Sunday night at San Jose, they’ll be greeted by Arlo White.
White, the former voice of NBC’s Premier League coverage, will be on the call for the first time this season, despite his role as the lead play-by-play announcer for controversial LIV Golf, a Saudi-backed entity using the sport to soften a repressive regime’s worldwide image.
According to a team spokesperson, the Fire decided to keep White because they felt it wasn’t appropriate to judge where he chose to work outside the franchise. The spokesperson said the team didn’t think parting with White would’ve been a reasonable solution to the greater conversation, given his role as a commentator.
On the episode of the team-produced podcast released last Saturday, when he confirmed his 2022 Fire debut, White said his new job is an exciting opportunity and he enjoys calling golf. He compared it to the risk he took when he first moved to the United States to broadcast Seattle Sounders matches.
There was no mention of the baggage attached to LIV Golf.
In the eyes of many, White’s reputation has been stained. The good name he built from years of soccer broadcasting has been tarnished by taking money from the same government responsible for the grisly assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the mass execution of 81 people in March and the ongoing bloodshed in Yemen, among other crimes.
Beyond sportswashing with LIV Golf, the purchase of English soccer club Newcastle United last year and likely more investments in global sports, Saudi Arabia’s oil and wealth make the country a major player on the world stage.
Clearly, the Saudi influence is hard to escape. But keeping White — who’s under contract — seems to conflict with the Fire’s stated values and efforts to make impacts on the community.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the franchise released strong messages on social media stating the team believes in “autonomy over one’s body and the right to choose” and followed up with links on how to vote and speak out. Through their P.L.A.Y.S. (Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer) program, the Fire have provided more than 250,000 hours of free soccer and social and emotional learning to over 4,000 kids, among other initiatives. During their match June 18, the club observed Juneteenth, and coach Ezra Hendrickson wore a Black Fires supporters group scarf.
“I just wanted to do that as a representation,” Hendrickson said last week. “This club, we like to embrace everyone, and I think me [at the] forefront, the head coach of the team, also being of African American descent, I thought it would be a good gesture.
“And along with the policy of the league and what they were trying to do last weekend with all the games and the numbers having Juneteenth showcased, I thought it would be a good thing to do, and I thought people accepted it and received it well.”