In off-the-pitch news, MLS teams and coaches made a real mess of things this week. There was Mike Petke, getting fired for berating match officials while using homophobic language, then writing a letter of clarification that contained zero apology. There was Frank De Boer saying he opposed equal pay for men and women. There was Atlanta United confiscating a banner that read 'End Gun Violence' because they perceived it to be political speech.
I get that the league wants to find that magical space between 'politically correct' and 'non-political.' I get that the league is afraid of becoming the arbiters of free speech in the stands - that the policing of 'puto' and the antifa symbol of the three black arrows and rainbow flags and anti-gun statements is all grey area - that all of this is subjective to some degree. I get it.
But there's no way around the fact that the world of sports is highly political. The athletes get paid a lot. They are members of unions. The owners are billionaires. They have massive land-use contracts, and many (all?) have tax-breaks and/or public funding for their stadia. Their corporate lives involve investments in companies that produce energy (and pollution) and pay their workers (or don't pay them and force them to utilize food stamps and medicare), and make and sell things that do good things and bad things in the world.
Don Garber's main responsibility is to support the owners, while occasionally reminding them that they need to not totally screw the fans, because in the end, that will have disastrous consequences. Donnie G. might as well recite the daily mantra 'don't bite the hand that feeds you,' although he will occasionally need his fellow MLS executives which hands he needs to be thinking of at this moment.
And at this moment, it would be important for MLS to get with the supporters, Alejandro Bedoya, and the majority of public sentiment, and not be just another cowardly league more interested in making money than in making a difference.
There are 49 seats at the stadium in Orlando. Forty-nine seats, painted in rainbow colors. Because a madman with easy access to an automatic weapon decided to kill gay people one night.
When you let people yell 'puto';
When you ban supporters from speaking about gun violence;
When you stay silent and allow groups with white supremacist ties to be supporters for NYCFC;
you aid the elements in society that created that massacre. You encourage, in some small manner, more violence, or at the very least, the league washes its hands of the ability to have an affect on things. There is nothing more ridiculous as a multi-billion dollar sports league comprised of billionaire owners that get thousands of hours of free press saying 'what can we do? we're helpless.'
Major League Soccer doesn't need to become a leftist anti-NRA political body or the soccer-ing arm of the Human Rights Campaign. It does need to allow fans to express themselves in ways that are anti-violence, anti-homophobia, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. And it needs to be able to firmly say that violence, homophobia, racism, and sexism are not welcome in MLS stadiums, nor are fans, players, or coaches who express such opinions.
Because if the culture of hate and violence isn't combatted on every front, and if the cycle of mass shootings that are tied to hate is allowed to continue unabated, there will be more stadiums in MLS which specially colored seating, marking another person killed, another act of hate, another un-checked gunman, and another city shattered by evil and indifference.
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