Salt Lake Files a Complaint About Reported Nowak Comment

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

MLS will investigate a formal complaint filed by Real Salt Lake, saying that D.C. United Coach Peter Nowak made inappropriate remarks about one of its players during an exhibition match last Friday in Bradenton, Fla.

"Major League Soccer is aware of the serious allegations from the match between Real Salt Lake and D.C. United on Feb. 17," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "We are currently conducting a thorough review and will await the outcome of this process before deciding what, if any, action will be taken."

Real Salt Lake "made the MLS office aware of a verbal incident that took place," General Manager Steve Pastorino said in a statement yesterday. "We are confident in the ability of the league office to fully investigate it."

Through a club spokesman, Pastorino said he would have no further comment.

Nowak had been accused of saying that Atiba Harris , a black player from the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, should be "sent back to Africa." Nowak has vehemently denied the charge and team officials and players have come to his defense.

According to United, Nowak said Harris should be "sent to hospital," meaning he wanted his own players to retaliate against Harris's perceived rough play. Nowak, a native of Poland, speaks broken English and is sometimes difficult to understand.

Real Salt Lake Coach John Ellinger implied that he and his assistants had heard Nowak make the off-color comments during an interview with a Salt Lake City radio station Friday. Ellinger has declined several interview requests the last two days.

In a telephone interview yesterday, United President Kevin Payne said he is furious with Ellinger and Real Salt Lake for going public with the dispute and that he welcomes a league inquiry.

"We've asked the league to look into it because we know what happened and we know what was said -- Real Salt Lake is simply mistaken," said Payne, who was near the team bench during the match. "The league also needs to look into how Salt Lake has handled it. I talked to some of the Salt Lake people after the game and they didn't say a word to me about it, not one word. For them to handle it this way is mind-boggling."

Payne went on to say, "If Peter Nowak had said something like he's being accused of, I would take very harsh action, but that's not what he said."

-- Steven Goff

© 2006 The Washington Post Company