Dandy Don?

Maybe you've noticed - Lord knows I have - that whenever you write something positive about MLS Commissioner Don Garber (or anything that that doesn't include at least a few derogatory comments about his competence, intelligence or overall honesty) you're pretty much guaranteed to get buried in complaints about how you're just "shilling" for The Man and have debased yourself by becoming a running dog lackey of the corporate machine.

But then, nobody ever said this blogging thing was easy. Or pretty.

Speaking just for myself of course, I have no particular objection to abuse; as I've mentioned many times, if I was concerned about being widely loved I wouldn't spend so much time heaping ridicule on the various miscreants we run across.

It's not that I'm smitten like a doe-eyed schoolgirl at a Jonas Brothers concert with the Garber regime at MLS HQ. Far from it. I have as long a list of complaints, peeves and personal grudges against the way our beloved league is operated as any man on Earth, excluding of course amongst Torontonianites, where they are outraged that "Caretaker Don" refuses to make special "TFC Rules" which would allow them to finally compete on an even basis with everybody else.

(For a somewhat more balanced - and certainly better written - overview of "MLS: The Garber Years" I highly recommend THIS PIECE BY KYLE McCARTHY. Like some other observers, he's choosing to draw a double line under 2009 as the end of the MLS decade, as one well might. Personally, having lived through the "Does end of the Millennium coincide with the final day of 1999 or the same day in 2000" argument, I'm going to reserve my much-anticipated "Decade in Review" article until December of 2010. Mark your calendars.)

All of which is by way of preamble to THIS ARTICLE BY RICHARD SNOWDEN.

Now I'll admit up front that I don't know much about the guy and seldom read his stuff, and that's not a judgment in any way. It's simply to say that unless I can get someone to cover the expenses of my lavish, indeed opulent, lifestyle, I can't read everything by everybody every day. You know what I mean; to stay up with all the stuff out there you'd end up blind, physically debilitated and poor from the 23 1/2 hours a day you'd spend sitting and staring at a monitor. Put your computer in the can, give up sleep and go for 24.

Rather, I'm pointing to it to demonstrate that it's not just message board whackjobs and Canadians who go way overboard, ad absurdium, in relation to the Don. In between calling the man a "PR flack" and implying that he's a lying sack of shit, Snowden makes some startling claims, including that single entity system was "the brainchild of U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati", a posit which is highly questionable at best, but no matter.

(He then goes on to repeat an assertion that Kenn Tomasch has bitterly denounced me for making, ie. that the league owns 51% of each team, but I love Kenn and won't ask him to either a) apologize or b) attack Snowden. He's a better man than that.)

RS really hits his stride when he gets to this statement:

"while the lawsuit was decided years ago in MLS's favor, many of the league's players remain decidedly unhappy with the system."

Well yeah, Richard. Losing a lawsuit doesn't normally make the loser happy. For reference, see Roe.v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, et. al. The fact that the players don't like what the Court ruled is kind of a given, isn't it?

If anything, the players could be criticized for refusing to face the facts, but I'm not going there either.

More to the point, the court ruled what it ruled, and asking the owners to give up at the negotiating table what they won in court is kind of ridiculous. "Yeah, sure, the law says we can do it our way but hey, if it makes you unhappy, then we'll scrap the whole deal."

Winning and losing in court has what is commonly referred to as "consequences".

Snowden then moves on to an irrefutable fact, ie. that MLS contract rules bind a player to his previous team for two years after the expiration of his contract. We're all familiar with this, and I myself have pointed out the inherent unfairness of it.

Yet, we need to go back to the court ruling/single entity debate to make one thing clear: one of the reasons, if not the main reason, for the current league structure is for precisely that situation. It used to be the rule in all sports before people like Curt Flood challenged what was referred to as the "reserve clause" in court (Flood v. Kuhn) in the late 60's and early 70's.

MLS was created (whether by Sunil Gulati or Alan Rothenburg or the Tooth Fairy) the way it was specifically to get around the court rulings which set the players free from what was then called "well paid slavery". Asking or expecting or demanding that they give that up now is simply absurd. They're not going to.

But here's where Snowden really falls down:

"the vast majority of MLS players have little to no say in where they will play or how much they can earn."

If this is true, isn't it more a statement on the caliber of MLS players than it is about the structure of MLS? Sweden or Spain or Switzerland won't hold you to an MLS contract clause.

Back in 1996, a lot of players said that they "came back" to MLS from - supposedly - lucrative foreign league careers, thereby "sacrificing" their own well-being for the benefit of helping to get a domestic US league off the ground.

I'd be the last person to argue with guys like Harkes, McBride, et. al., and even if every word of that was true it still didn't apply to the vast majority of players, who had virtually no chance of playing professionally without MLS.

Thus, the "American players need a place to play professionally" rationale for founding the league. It wasn't in order to retrieve them from lucrative footballing careers in Europe. It was to retrieve them from non-lucrative shelf-stocking jobs at Sam's Club.

As for "how much they can earn" I'm confused: I keep hearing the players saying that this "isn't about money, it's about principle". If so, it's a pretty thin distinction: what it's about is the "principle" of making more money.

What about the "principle" of how, if they were better players, then more people would buy tickets to see them play, thereby - here's a concept for you - actually earning more money than MLS will pay?

"It sounds a bit too much like indentured servitude for comfort"

On the contrary; no one is forcing anyone to play in MLS. Go someplace else. We'll hold the door.

As for the argument that uncontrolled wage inflation - except that of course this isn't about money - could destroy the league:

"It's a bald-faced slippery-slope fallacy, the sort of false argument typical of PR flacks like Garber who are used to dealing with credulous folk who don't know any better."

I'd only ask that Richard quit weaseling his words here: The expression isn't "bald faced fallacy" is it? No, it's "bald faced lie" which is what you were shooting for before you decided that sounded too harsh. But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and calling Don Garber a liar by any other name is still ridiculous.

"And if there were ever any bit of PR hooey from MLS HQ that richly deserves serious critical examination, it's this one."

It's "bullshit" Richard, not hooey.

"Garber and company would no doubt love for us to believe that central control of player contracts and movement has been the key to MLS's viability"

Frankly, it's hard to argue otherwise.

I thought the argument now was that single entity had "outlived it's usefulness" and "it's time to move on". Now you're saying that corporate control of player costs was never really a factor, and when they say otherwise they're lying to the "credulous".

Can't have it both ways.

"Garber has all but dared the MLS players to strike over limited free agency and a modest salary-cap boost – this while demanding a threefold raise for himself (from $1 million to $3 million per year) that very nearly equals an entire team's salary-cap budget."

I don't know that The Don has "demanded" anything of the sort. It's likely the kind of money he'll end up making, yes, but you're making it sound like he showed up at a BofG meeting with a gun and a mask.

Inadvertently though, you've made a good point: Don Garber has made the owners a lot of money, and he's going to be compensated for it. Landon Donovan has done the same and will be getting his. David Beckham, love him or Loney him, has brought in some serious cabbage, and he's getting his cut.

In MLS, any player who brings in customers can make a good living. Stuart Holden is being offered a boatload of cash, and it's not because of "fairness". That's a childish fantasy. He's being offered a lot of dough because people will pay to see him.

Towards the end, Richard (can I call you Richard?) begins to really come unglued:

"In light of (Garbers') past prattling about how the recession has forced MLS to tighten its belt, this represents a staggering bit of hypocrisy from the commish. It is also shameful beyond words that Garber seems to think Generation Adidas players, many of whom already live four to a roach motel and subsist on little better than ramen noodles, should skip some meals so he can afford better caviar."

Where to start? Let's take it by the numbers:

1) Garber "prattles"?

2) Are you saying that the recession hasn't had an effect on MLS revenues? really?

3) It's "staggering hypocrisy" for someone to suggest that the league needs to be a little circumspect in light of TTET?

4) "Shameful beyond words" that Garber is OK with "Generation adidas" players living in squalor? Frankly, I think it's "shameful beyond words" that someone who purports to be an expert on the ins and outs of MLS doesn't know the difference between Generation adidas and Developmental players.

5) Just off the top of my head, I can't think of a single GA player who makes less than $50k a year. if they're living on Ramen noodles in "roach motels" then maybe what they need is some money management classes.

6) As if not knowing the difference between GenA players and Developmental players wasn't bad enough, he apparently also isn't aware that the CBA has nothing whatever to do with GenA salaries.

7) The caviar comment? Really cheezy. I don't know if the man even likes caviar, but I do know that he collects expensive wine, and if that's what he does with the money he earns by creating wealth for his bosses, then all I can say is bully.


"if Garber and the investors insist on needlessly keeping the players down via the existing system, the players will be well justified if they opt to walk out."

Why those heartless bastards! They're "keeping the players down" "needlessly". See, they could pay them a lot more, but - for no reason at all - they want them living in poverty.

Get a grip, man.

In any case, it takes until the very last sentence of a very long piece for Snowden to acknowledge that there is someone other than Don Garber who is responsible for the current MLS corporate structure.

It's this level of "Garber as immoral, greedy, lying tool" discourse that forces me to spend so much time defending the guy.

It's not that he's beyond criticism or that when he sits on the crapper golden tulips splash into the bowl, but is it too much to ask that people not pretend he's the problem here?

The current league situation deserves better.