NFL

J.J. Watt Is Ready To Make the Leap From Player To Owner

J.J. Watt has shown he can do it all both on the field and off it. The Houston Texans defensive end is a five-time first-team All-Pro selection in the NFL and a humanitarian, too, having raised more than $40 million in relief aid following Hurricane Harvey. Now, Watt wants to try something completely different: owning a soccer team.

J.J. Watt is already a well-known soccer enthusiast

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Dell Loy Hansen, who owns the Real Salt Lake franchise in Major League Soccer as well as the Utah Royals of the National Women’s Soccer League, has decided to put his holdings up for sale after a tumultuous week.

Hansen, who has taken a leave of absence from operating the teams, released a statement on Aug. 30, confirming his intention to sell. Real Salt Lake joined MLS in the 2005 season under the ownership of a group led by Dave Checketts. He sold to Hansen, previously a minority owner, in 2013.

According to Sports Pro Media, potential buyers have started lining up. The best-known name in the bunch is NFL star J.J. Watt. He posted on his Twitter account that he is “genuinely interested” in the MLS and NWSL franchises.

Watt has made his support of Arsenal in the English Premier League well known in recent years, but that’s hardly his only connection to the sport. The football star’s wife, Kealia Ohai Watt, a native of Utah, plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL. She has also suited up for the U.S. Women’s National Team.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league is aware of Hansen’s intention to divest his soccer holdings. Garber said the league will work to assist the transfer to new ownership.

Watt is not the only figure from the sports world to express interest thus far. U.S. National Team player Jozy Altidore tweeted that he is part of a group that is prepared to bid. Also, the owners of the NBA’s Utah Jazz may make an offer, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Dell Loy Hansen has been under fire

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Dell Loy Hansen has been under investigation by MLS and the NWSL since The Athletic quoted former employees last week as saying the Real Salt Lake owner had made frequent racist remarks. Problems came to light after Hansen criticized his players during a radio interview for boycotting an Aug. 26 game against the Los Angeles Football Club in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

According to The Athletic, Hansen equated the boycott to a feeling “like somebody stabbed you and you’re trying to figure out a way to pull the knife out and move forward. … The disrespect is profound to me personally.” 

Hansen followed with a statement apologizing for his remarks during the interview. However, the sports site reported on a string of racist and insensitive remarks relayed to them by people who have worked in the soccer organization under Hansen.

J.J. Watt would be joining a growing group of athlete-owners

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If a deal for Real Salt Lake materializes, J.J. Watt wouldn’t be the first big-name athlete to take a financial interest in soccer. Investing has become a very trendy thing for athletes to do lately. Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets was one of the most recent to take the plunge, purchasing a small slice of the Philadelphia Union this spring.

Last year, fellow NBA star James Harden invested in the group that owns the Houston Dynamo and the NWSL’s Houston Dash. Former boxing great Oscar De La Hoya took 25% ownership there in 2008, according to Fortune. NFL quarterback Russell Wilson and wife Ciara also signed on with the MLS last year by investing in the Seattle Sounders.

Other athletes have had skin in the soccer game much longer, notably LeBron James as part of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s group controlling Liverpool in the English Premier League, and Steve Nash with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, and Nomar Garciaparra were among the celebrities launching the Los Angeles Football Club in 2018. The NWSL will be expanding in LA in 2022

The most ambitious of all ownership moves by an athlete was by Manchester United star David Beckham, who played for the Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of his career. Beckham had a contract provision with MLS allowing him to purchase an expansion team, and his Inter Miami FC made its debut this year.