Tea Katai’s posts, which have been taken down, appeared to make light of the protests and looting that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody last week in Minneapolis. The team made the decision to release Katai after meeting with him following a training session Thursday.
“We believe strongly that we’re a club that represents our staff, represents our players, represents our fans and our community,” team president Chris Klein said. “The decision, in that respect, was not a difficult one. We have to hold to those values. This is not a soccer decision.”
Katai was not available for comment.
Although the Galaxy declined to discuss Katai’s salary, it was funded with targeted allocation money and was worth significantly more than the $612,500 allowed under MLS rules. On Thursday the team reached an agreement with Katai to buy out the remainder of that contract.
“It was very professional. I would not characterize it as tense at all,” Klein said of the meeting at Dignity Health Sports Park, which also included general manager Dennis te Kloese, coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto and technical director Jovan Kirovski. “He had a lot of hurt and remorse and was very understanding through this process.”
The first of Tea Katai’s posts was a screenshot from a video showing two New York City police officers driving their vehicles through a crowd of demonstrators with a caption, in Serbian, that translates as “kill the s—s!” The second showed an apparent looter with boxes of Nike shoes below English-language text reading “Black Nikes Matter.” The Associated Press reported Tea Katai also wrote another post in Serbian that described the protesters as “disgusting cattle.”
The Galaxy said Tea Katai was in Chicago when she made the posts while her husband was in Southern California participating in voluntary individual workouts alongside teammates. Klein said the fact the offensive comments were made by Katai’s wife and not the player himself complicated the decision to release him.
“There are a lot of things that didn’t make the decision very easy. But we have an obligation to represent the values that we’ve upheld,” he said. “Everyone makes mistakes. But in the end we have to look at what the club stands for and who were are.”
Reaction to the posts, which appeared to go up late Tuesday, was quick, with Galaxy supporters demanding Katai’s release. On Thursday four men stood before a statue of David Beckham outside the team’s stadium holding a bedsheet-sized banner that read “No Racists in Our Club” with Katai’s uniform No. 7 encircled with a red line through it.
After the Galaxy released a statement condemning the messages Wednesday, Katai placed a four-paragraph apology on Instagram, calling his wife’s posts “unacceptable” and adding that “these views are not ones that I share and are not tolerated in my family.”
Katai, 29, a Serbian national-team player who was signed by the Galaxy as a free agent in December, started both games the team played before the MLS season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic in early May. He had 18 goals and 12 assists in 62 games over two seasons with the Chicago Fire. He spent the first eight years of his professional career in Europe, where he played for Serbia powerhouse Red Star Belgrade as well as for clubs in Greece and Spain.
The Galaxy are expected to resume their season in early July in Orlando, Fla., in a tournament featuring all 26 MLS teams.