In a move that is at best controversial and at worst really, really lame, Major League Soccer has sent a letter to "Houston Dynamo supporter's groups" (which apparently means Texian Army, El Battallon, Brickwall Firm, La Bateria although they do not so specify) telling them that they're being punished for being bad. Or something.
You can read the letter for yourself but the league is saying that because some smoke bombs were "ignited" at three away matches including MLS Cup, (and tossed onto the field in the latter case, along with some other "objects that presented a safety risk") and some "obscene language and gestures" were observed in the final as well, that the "supporters groups" need a slap down.
Specifically, the letter states that
"As of March 1, Dynamo traveling supporters will not be permitted to utilize items listed as Supporter Group Exemptions in the MLS Prohibited Items policy (e.g. flags, banners, confetti, drums). This sanction shall continue to be in effect until otherwise notified by MLS; provided, however, that at a minimum it shall apply to the following games:
1. Houston Dynamo vs. Chivas at the Home Depot Center (March 11, 2012) 2. Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City at LIVESTRONG Park (July 7, 2012)"
Apparently they can do what they want at home games; no mention whatsoever is made regarding any of those.
The letter goes on to specify that the policy will be reviewed "after the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium on May 12, 2012", which seems an odd milestone considering, as noted, that behavior at home games is not, apparently, a problem.
Nonetheless, at that time they'll be looking at four items:
1. Supporter conduct at 2012 MLS away games 2. Supporter conduct at BBVA Compass Stadium 3. Implementation of a supporter charter 4. Formation of an effective leadership system for all Dynamo supporters that is recognized by the club
My first question would have to be: "Why now"?
MLS Cup was in November. If nothing else, items 3 & 4 could have easily been addressed over the Winter. Maybe the problem here is that the league has been earnestly urging the various groups to "implement a charter" and form "an effective leadership system" and the parties involved have been telling them to blow it out their ass, but I doubt it.
Or maybe MLS is severely understaffed and it took over three months to find th time to sit down and review the tapes. That too, seems unlikely.
The issue of timing aside, however, let me assemble Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein so they can do a chorus of my new song "Fire Bad, Fire Hurt", lest anyone think for a moment that I condone setting people or buildings ablaze in the name of sports fandom.
That said, I also sat in Crew Stadium one day a few years back and watched Toronto fans throw a flare AT THEIR OWN KEEPER, set fire to an awning which was sheltering a group of small children holding a birthday party, wave grossly obscene signs, use language which would embarrass a merchant seaman and top it all off by ripping out a 30 foot section of stadium railing and heave it off the second deck.
I'm still waiting for the league's letter "to Toronto supporter's groups" regarding those incidents. Indeed, the only reply came from Crew management, which enacted a policy for TFC fans which was virtually identical to the one the league has just declared for Dynamo supporters, and our Canadian brothers immediately declared a "boycott" of Columbus stadium.
I don't relate this in an attempt to poke MLS fans from North of the Ice Curtain in the eye. Not that I mind doing so. Not a bit.
However, in this case I cite the incidents - and I left out the part where Toronto fans in the parking lot opened their pants and waved their private parts at a wedding party arriving at the church next to the stadium - only to point out that they are hardly unique. I doubt if there's a single team that can't cite similar events.
Well, except for the winkie waving.
Neither am I going to agree that this is an obviously racist decision based on the ethnic identity of a fair number of Houston Dynamo fans, although a fair number of people are making that connection.
But I do wonder whether the good burghers at MLS World headquarters in New York really and truly believe that it's possible to walk a line as thin as the one they are staking out.
They love "the passion" just as long as it's not too passionate.
They want everybody "to have a good time" - and they encourage both extensive tailgating and in-stadium alcohol sales to help it along - but react like a room full of Victorian ladies in a room where someone just farted when that policy leads, as it does in every single sport, to the logical result.
They claim to admire the "European atmosphere" that supporters groups bring to the stadiums but then faint dead away when one of them tells David Beckham to perform an anatomically doubtful procreative act on himself.
They plaster pictures and video clips of supporter's sections all over every piece of promotional material they produce and then disavow the selfsame groups of fans when it's time to sell a "Family Four Pack" to Mr. and Mrs. Carpool for their once-yearly pilgrimage to one of the league's lovely new buildings.
We all know this is an issue that has been talked about since Day One, and the reason why it has arisen again - and will keep arising, unlike the aforementioned pathetic TFC puds - is because the league's "policy" (to give it a name it barely deserves), which claims to be all about "safety" and a "family atmosphere" which is an intellectually insulting claim on all sorts of levels, is and always has been an attempt to have it both ways.