9/11 Memorial: Q&A with Commissioner Don Garber

9/11 Memorial: MLS Commissioner Don Garber

In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, MLSsoccer.com is publishing a series of stories that look at MLS and the response to the tragic events of that day.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who had been on the job for two years at that point, was born and raised in New York. The events of 9/11 hit home for him and forced upon him one of the biggest tests of his professional career.
Here, he discusses his experiences on 9/11, including the decision to cancel the remaining portion of the regular season.

MLSsoccer.com: Take us back to that day and what you remember the sequence of events the way you experienced them.

Don Garber: I was driving to work and stuck in traffic on the helix [in NJ] leading in to the Lincoln Tunnel. I saw smoke coming out of one of the towers and immediately called my brother — who is a lawyer for the New York Police Union — and worked at 7 World Trade Center. We both thought a plane crashed into the tower, but it didn’t even occur to us that it was a terrorist attack.

As I arrived in the office, the entire staff was huddled around the television. Shortly thereafter, the second tower was attacked. We were all totally shocked and devastated by what we knew would be a terrible tragedy with a massive loss of life.

MLSsoccer.com: What were your immediate concerns?

Garber: Certainly my first concern was for the safety of my family, as well as for the many people I knew who worked either in the World Trade Center or in Lower Manhattan. I live in a town very close to Manhattan and many people I know worked in the World Trade Center. Most of those people I knew were able to evacuate, but unfortunately there were a number of people that I know that didn’t. I don’t think there were very many people who lived in New York City who were not touched very personally.

<img alt="" src="https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/911-memorial-logo.png" style="width: 100px; height: 48px;"><strong>In remembrance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, MLS is partnering with the 9/11 Memorial. For more information and to make a donation, please go to:</strong><a href="http://www.911memorial.org/" target="_blank"><strong>911memorial.org</strong></a>

MLSsoccer.com: All of New York, of course, spent that day reacting to the attack. How did you spend the day?

Garber: As the towers came down, thousands of people — all covered in dust — started streaming uptown. My brother was one of those people and toward the end of the day, he arrived in the office where we waited together until the bridges and tunnels were re-opened, allowing people to leave the city.

We both traveled up to one of the many blood donation centers that were established throughout the city. There were lines circling for blocks, with countless people waiting to give blood. I have vivid memories of standing in line in Midtown and seeing military jets circling above the city.

I left the office at about 11 pm that night and knew that there would be some incredibly difficult days ahead.

MLSsoccer.com: What were the immediate concerns for you in your role as Commissioner of the league?

Garber: I was very concerned for our staff, players and coaches that we had on the road. We had several teams and a number of MLS league office staff in planes that day. And we worked hard to manage the logistics of getting them home. We worked very hard to get them home to their families as soon as possible.

MLSsoccer.com: The final weeks of the season were canceled. What went into this decision and what were the issues you had to deal with from an operations standpoint?

Garber: The very next day we started addressing issues from increasing security at our stadiums, including whether we would suspend the six remaining games of the regular season. The decision to suspend the season was made quickly and was unanimously supported by our clubs and owners. It just seemed like the right thing to do, and in retrospect, I believe it was.

MLSsoccer.com: What thoughts go through your head when this day rolls around every year?

Garber: I try to spend a few moments remembering how much the entire nation suffered that day and the incredible acts of bravery and heroism displayed by so many people — from average citizens to police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

MLSsoccer.com: What moment post-9/11 on an MLS field stays with you to this day?

Garber: We decided to honor the New York City Police and New York City Fire departments with the MLS Commissioner’s Award at MLS Cup. Several of their members lost their lives that day, and I know the entire league was honored to recognize their great service and heroism.

We brought in many of the members of the NYPD and FDNY soccer teams to MLS Cup in Columbus and they participated in a variety of activities — from the Gala Awards event to being honored at pregame and halftime. I still have a fireman’s helmet emblazoned with the FDNY logo in my office that was given to me by their team captain, and we honored the team again during the MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena this summer.