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A Major League Soccer trainer was fired for flashing the 'OK' hand sign in a photo

Audi Field, a soccer-specific stadium is shown in Buzzard Point in Washington, DC on July 9, 2018.
Gilles Clarenne
/
AFP via Getty Images
Audi Field, a soccer-specific stadium is shown in Buzzard Point in Washington, DC on July 9, 2018.

The D.C. United soccer team announced Friday that it had fired the club's athletic trainer for allegedly making a "discriminatory hand gesture" in a photo that appeared on social media one day earlier.

Though the club didn't name him in its statement, the Washington Post reported that the person let go was Reade Whitney. He is listed on D.C. United's website as the head athletic trainer.

According to the newspaper, Whitney was fired after a team photo showed him displaying what's commonly understood to be the "OK" hand signal, a gesture that's been increasingly used by white supremacists in recent years.

"There is no place for racism, homophobia, misogyny, or discrimination of any kind in our sport and world and D.C. United do not tolerate any acts of this nature," the team said in a statement.

Efforts to reach Whitney for comment were not immediately successful.

The "OK" hand gesture — making a circle with the thumb and index finger while the other three fingers point out — is typically used to indicate that all is well.

But experts say the once-innocuous signal has also been adopted by white supremacists and other far-right groups recently.

The Anti-Defamation League lists it among the symbols used by hate groups, and the Southern Poverty Law Center says it's commonly deployed by white nationalists and internet trolls.

Whitney's firing was announced a few hours before the team said it was also suspending two players while Major League Soccer investigates possible violations of league policy.

D.C. United players Taxi Fountas and Nigel Robertha were placed on paid administrative leave and would be unavailable for team activities, the club said.

The Athletic reported that Fountas was accused of directing a racial slur toward Robertha in a recent training session, and that Robertha physically assaulted Fountas in response.

It's unclear if Whitney's firing and the matter involving the two players are related.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]