It’s pretty clear why a sizable group of people wants the Fire to cut ties with announcer Arlo White. Ironically, it was White himself who articulated the reasons so many despise people who take Saudi money.
Of course, that was well before White did it himself.
Chatting in October with regular play-by-play announcer Tyler Terens on the Fire’s in-house podcast, White discussed the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s purchase of English team Newcastle United. White, then the voice of NBC’s Premier League coverage, and Terens talked about how conflicted they were by the transaction.
While Saudi money instantly made the rabidly followed but perpetually underachieving team the world’s richest club, the promise of a glorious future came at a cost. White recognized that, having recently announced Newcastle’s first match after the takeover.
“Clearly, there are ethical issues at play in terms of the human-rights record in Saudi Arabia, the treatment of gay people in Saudi Arabia in which there is no law, there is no support for anybody LGBT in Saudi Arabia,” White said on the podcast. “Women’s rights, other religious rights, they are discriminated against in law in Saudi Arabia.”
Unfortunately, the Fire haven’t said anything like that since White was announced as the lead broadcaster of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series. Actually, they haven’t said anything at all to the media or their fans who are concerned about the Fire employing someone tied to a controversial regime.
The Fire have declined to make owner Joe Mansueto or team president Ishwara Glassman Chrein available for comment to explain their decision-making process, how much they anticipated any potential blowback and what benefits they could get from holding on to White. Since last week when LIV Golf teed off, White has turned off replies on his social-media posts and was caught referencing the uproar during a hot-mic moment.
But it appears the Fire still are planning to use White this summer for a handful of telecasts during their last season on WGN. That’s despite what White explained in October, something that has become another flashpoint for a struggling franchise.
PIF’s chairman is Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince who is believed to have ordered the 2018 torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi government executed 81 people in March, oppresses women and the LGBTQ+ community and is responsible for the ongoing bloodshed in nearby Yemen, among other atrocities.
It’s hard to imagine that the Fire aren’t aware of what PIF represents and what any affiliation with it would say about their franchise.
Last year, White was conscious of PIF and the Saudis and spoke about them months before he took their money to help them sportswash their appearance.
However, as the Fire bunker down, those October comments, White’s hot-mic disdain of the “campaigning” to get him removed from the team and an Instagram post Tuesday seemingly doubling down on his choice will have to suffice for now.
But maybe the Fire brass’ silence says it all.