COMMENTARY | The yearly tradition that is Major League Soccer players getting themselves in trouble because of the words they say while on the pitch continued earlier this week.
MLS announced via the league's official website on Tuesday that San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon has been suspended for a total of four games following his actions during this past Sunday night's Portland Timbers vs. San Jose contest. Gordon was given an automatic one-match ban for being sent off in the second half of the game, and he added three games to his tab after NBC Sports Network cameras caught the forward dropping two f-bombs; one obscene word that might have earned him a slap on the wrist and nothing more, and a homosexual slur that MLS commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly stated will "not be tolerated."
Along with the suspension, Gordon was fined an undisclosed amount of money. He will also have to attend "diversity and sensitivity training." He has since apologized for his use of the slur.
The 'Quakes were without Gordon for the first three games of the 2013 MLS regular season while he recovered from offseason foot surgery. He will now miss another showdown with Portland (this time in SJ), an away game against Chivas USA, and home matches against Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. Gordon scored 13 goals and he notched seven assists last season. San Jose are currently one of five MLS Western Conference clubs on eight points, and they are eight points behind league-leaders FC Dallas.
Three-match bans and fines are as far as MLS is willing to go when it comes to punishing players who use homosexual slurs during games. Colin Clark received the same suspension and an undisclosed fine last season when he used identical language while playing a match for Houston Dynamo. Compare this with how the FA has reacted to players using racial slurs during contests.
One might argue that Liverpool's Luis Suarez earned himself the eight-match ban for personally abusing an opponent because of that individual's skin color, while Gordon merely directed a comment "in the heat of battle" toward a player who is married and has a child with his wife. Thus, the three-game suspension and fine are punishment enough. The problem with that rationalization is that the league has made it clear via its Don't Cross The Line campaign that discrimination, harassment and hate speech of any kind is completely unacceptable.
You also can't forget that regular season games are not nearly as important to San Jose as they are to Premier League sides such as Liverpool. Liverpool only have league fixtures to earn themselves Champions League football and a shot at the EPL title. San Jose, on the other hand, can win the MLS Cup and earn CONCACAF Champions League by being one of the five-best Western Conference clubs during the regular season before going on to win the postseason tournament.
MLS regular seasons begin in March and end in October. Ten of the league's 19 teams qualify for the playoffs. Three league fixtures affect MLS franchises very little, if at all. I asked a few individuals within the league what the punishment would be for a player caught using ethnic or racial slurs during a game. Just as last year when I asked the same question following the Colin Clark incident, the answer was what you might expect it to be; probably not. The punishment, in that case, would likely be more severe.
The hope is that we'll never have to find out.
Zac has been covering New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer, Tottenham Hotspur, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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