Photo depicting Sounders FC flags with rainbow coloring across them.

Sounders Fans Speak Out Against Jersey Sponsor Providence: ‘What Happened to Our Shared Values?’

by Megan Burbank

When the Sounders announced their partnership with new jersey sponsor Providence Medical Group earlier this month, the team touted it as a win-win for youth mental health. “Today’s announcement is less about the mark that our players will wear across their chests on gameday and more about the deep community investment that Providence and Sounders FC are coming together to fulfill,” said Sounders FC majority owner Adrian Hanauer in a media release posted to the team’s website on Friday, Jan. 20. “Mental health — especially for young people —– is a critical part of a healthy society, and we’re looking forward to employing the resources and reach of our two organizations to focus on these outcomes.”

Many fans don’t see the partnership as a positive. In a swift response, Emerald City Supporters shared an open letter to Sounders management the next day, expressing concern that Providence’s history of denying reproductive and gender-affirming health care made the organization an unfit partner for a team with a professed dedication to equity.

“You have spent years reassuring us that you shared our values on critical topics,” wrote the fan organization. “You’ve told us you share our antifascist and antiracist stance. You joined us in showing your support for transgender youth, going so far as to tell CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) officials that you wouldn’t make us take down our ‘Emerald City Supports Trans Kids’ banner the night of the CCL Final. On June 24, 2022, the day Roe v. Wade was overturned, you issued a statement assuring fans that you believe in the right to autonomy over our bodies and the right to choose.”

In a statement posted to Twitter the day of the decision, Sounders staff wrote: “Regarding this morning’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court, we believe in the right to autonomy over our bodies, and the right to choose. Reproductive rights are human rights. We know that many of you are hurt and angry and frustrated. Our club is committed to fighting for inclusion, tolerance and justice in our community.”

Abortion access is a value Providence doesn’t appear to share. The health care organization abides by Ethical and Religious Directives set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and it provides only limited reproductive health care services, according to documents filed with the Department of Health

Facilities operated by Providence and Swedish Health Services in the Puget Sound region do not provide elective abortions but instead offer patients “referrals to independent providers in the community,” the documents show. Checklists for hospitals operating independently of Swedish throughout the state show that they do not provide medication abortion, abortion referrals, or surgical abortion, with the caveat that “Some services listed on this form may be provided when medically indicated.” It’s unclear what situations would qualify as exceptions. The forms also note that “procedures that induce sterility” are also not available, unless “their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.”

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, religiously affiliated health care institutions in Washington State have constrained access to reproductive health care, and mergers between secular and religious hospitals also raise questions about maintaining access to end-of-life and gender-affirming care. At a hearing held last year for the Keep Our Care Act, a bill proposed at the State Legislature that would have imposed more stringent regulations on such mergers, medical social worker Pattie Pritchard recalled the challenges she encountered as an employee of a religiously affiliated health care system seeking gender-affirming care for her child.

The association between access to gender-affirming care and youth mental health is supported by medical evidence. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and conducted at Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic from 2017 to 2018 found gender-affirming care was linked to “decreased rates of long-term adverse outcomes” and “decreased rates of depression, anxiety, and other adverse mental health outcomes” among youth.

The Sounders’ media release emphasizes addressing “the mental health crisis currently facing the country” by “empowering youth, using health education, physical activity, preventative medicine and access to resources.” But it makes no reference to gender-affirming care despite the clear overlap between access to these services and mental well-being.

For Sounders fans, that contradiction was loud — and damning. “The one thing we can agree on in all of this is that more mental health resources are needed in our community, especially for children and adolescents,” wrote Emerald City Supporters of the announcement. “However, partnering with a faith-based organization with a history of being against reproductive rights and gender-affirming care isn’t showing support to all members of this community. There are so many different community organizations you could have chosen for this initiative that would support all of our shared values.” 

“We put the @SoundersFC front office up for Front Office of the Year at the Independent Supporters Council Conference this year because of the amazing work they did last year, especially in the realm of trans rights,” tweeted another fan organization, Gorilla FC, in response to the news. “Pretty sure Providence just cost them the win.”

In a statement, Sounders FC said it had been “actively listening to feedback from members of the Sounders community” but planned to continue the partnership with Providence.

Gorilla FC and Seattle Sounders FC Alliance Council planned to address these concerns in a meeting with Sounders management. “We hope to have an open and frank conversation with the Club about our concerns over Providence as the jersey sponsor,” said Gorilla FC’s Cameron Collins. “Both the Alliance Council and Gorilla FC have fostered a strong and respectful working relationship with the front office and ownership, and we know that the Club will approach the meeting with open minds, as will we.”

The groups hope to address how Sounders’ management can regain the trust of LGBTQ members of the team’s fanbase. “Having worked with everyone in the Front Office, we know that the Club did not intend to cause any harm or heartbreak, but we hope to discuss what steps can be taken or what individuals can be present in the future to ensure they don’t have such blindspots,” said Collins.

Megan Burbank is a writer and editor based in Seattle. Before going full-time freelance, she worked as an editor and reporter at the Portland Mercury and The Seattle Times. She specializes in enterprise reporting on reproductive health policy, and stories at the nexus of gender, politics, and culture.

📸 Featured Image: Photo by Nick 1L/ with editing by the Emerald team.

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