Apr 3, 2024 - News

Utah Royals' jersey sponsor, America First Credit Union, sparks backlash

Kate Del Fava #8 of the Utah Royals passes the ball during a game between the Utah Royals and the Washington Spirit at Audi Field on March 31, 2024.

Kate Del Fava No. 8 of the Utah Royals passes the ball during a game between the Utah Royals and the Washington Spirit at Audi Field on March 31, 2024, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The Utah Royals continue to face scrutiny over the name of their jersey and stadium naming rights sponsor.

Why it matters: Fan-led soccer groups are accusing America First Credit Union's name and logo, which features an image of an eagle, of having racist and white supremacist connotations.

Catch up quick: The Utah credit union was originally founded as the Fort Douglas Civilian Employees Credit Union in 1939.

  • After it moved its operations from Fort Douglas to Ogden, it changed its name to Federal Employees Credit Union in 1947.
  • It changed its name again to America First Credit Union in 1984 after converting to a community charter.
  • In 2022, Real Salt Lake announced the stadium in Sandy was being renamed America First Field. It had previously been called Rio Tinto Stadium.

What they're saying: "The 'America' in our name denotes our connection to our founding members — civilian federal employees who worked at the American military bases and defense depots in Utah," a representative for America First Credit Union said in a statement to Axios.

  • "Those early members' deep and abiding sense of service and patriotism is something that continues to be felt within our membership to this day."
  • The credit union said the term "first," which is commonly used for banks and credit unions, reflects "putting the financial needs of their members at the forefront."

America First Credit Union declined to answer questions surrounding their relationship with the women's soccer club moving forward and whether there had been talks about removing their logo from the jerseys.

Yes, but: In a March 30 statement, two supporter groups for the Washington Spirit and D.C. United said the company's defense of their name "ignores the complex and hateful history of the name and the ongoing effects of American nationalism and white supremacy that 'America First' expresses."

  • A spokesperson for Real Salt Lake did not provide a statement to Axios.

Context: Former President Woodrow Wilson first used the expression publicly in 1916 during his presidential campaign.

  • The term later caught on in the 1920s, "in an era of increasing agitation and policymaking against immigration," David Myers, a professor and Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA, told Axios.
  • The America First Committee, an isolationist group founded in the 1940s, opposed U.S. involvement in World War II.
  • Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who became the face of the committee, held anti-Semitic and anti-immigration views.
  • Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke told NPR he used the phrase during his presidential run in 1992.

The "America first" slogan has been revived in recent years by former President Trump.

  • "When Donald Trump began to make use of that term in his 2016 presidential campaign, anyone who was familiar with that history was discomfited," Myers said.

Zoom out: Some sports teams and institutions have changed their names in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests prompted by the police killing of George Floyd.

Between the lines: The jersey controversy has spurred a response from Gov. Spencer Cox and editorials from two of the state's largest newspapers.

  • "Just when you think this website can't get any more ridiculous. (I had to check if this was a parody account…sadly it is not)," Cox wrote on X, quote-tweeting a statement from North Carolina Courage's supporter group that criticized the credit union's name.

The bottom line: As isolationism and anti-immigrant rhetoric rises, combined with the prospect of a second Trump presidency, Myers said it's understandable why people would be sensitive to the expression.

  • "This strikes me as a really outstanding, teachable moment to go back and look at what this term has meant and understand more clearly why it has had the resonances and causes the discomfort that it does," he said.
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