Major League Soccer’s “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign has been bringing the North American top flight’s message of equality, dignity and respect to television screens and stadiums for a couple seasons now. In the next few days, MLS disciplinarians will have the opportunity to put their words into practice.
In Sunday’s match between the Portland Timbers and the San Jose Earthquakes at Jeld-Wen Field, San Jose forward Alan Gordon directed a gay slur at Portland midfielder Will Johnson, and given the hard line MLS has taken regarding this sort of thing in the past, the 31-year-old can expect to be handed a three-game ban before the same two sides meet in a rematch on April 21. (Gordon is banned from the match, anyway, after being ejected for a pair of unrelated yellow cards.)
The incident, in which Gordon called Johnson a “F***ing faggot,” was picked up by television cameras broadcasting the match nationwide, and shortly after the final whistle, the once-capped United States international released a statement in which he apologized for his behaviour.
“Although I said it in the heat of the moment, that language has no place in our game. That is not my character, but there is still no excuse for saying what I said. I made a mistake and I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
His club was also quick in addressing what president Dave Kaval referred to as a “deplorable incident.”
In his own statement, Kaval made sure to point out that Gordon’s language did not “reflect the views or beliefs” of San Jose Earthquakes and that the club had always tried promote “an atmosphere of acceptance and equality.”
“For our fans, I know the organization has let you down,” he said. “I will do my best to take the necessary actions to make sure we once again can be viewed as a beacon of diversity, community and equality.”
His words have gone a long way toward accomplishing just that, and that Gordon felt compelled to issue a public apology so quickly after the incident (football is rife with examples of players denying on-field comments; Luis Suarez and John Terry spring immediately to mind) shows that he recognizes the seriousness of his language, and the magnitude of hurt caused by it.
It was only two months ago, after all, that former Columbus Crew and Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers retired from football after revealing his sexuality in an eloquent, emotional blog post. And in a recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the 25-year-old reiterated that he felt his decision to exit the game was necessary in order to avoid a “circus.”
It’s in this light that the post-match conduct of Gordon, Kaval and (shortly) Major League Soccer has been so heartening. Rather than letting the fallout from the incident linger and become poisonous, they have done everything possible to both nip the matter in the bud and advocate for increased acceptance and fair play.
“I hope to use this deplorable incident as a tool to help eradicate offensive language of this kind,” added Kaval.
Alan Gordon should never have said what he said. He’s right to feel ashamed, and there will almost certainly be a price he has to pay.
The anti-discrimination fight will continue—there’s a long way to go—but in the end, this incident may well be looked back on as a battle won instead of lost.