The big news over the weekend, unfortunately, is Alan Gordon. During San Jose’s game at Portland, the national team forward called the Timbers’ Will Johnson a slur. Gordon has since apologized:
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.
First, when Gordon himself releases a full confession and an apology, it’s okay to stop using the word “alleged.” O.J. Simpson is no longer an alleged trespasser, and Gordon is no longer alleged to have used the slur. We can debate what’s in Gordon’s heart, I suppose, just like we can with Colin Clark and Luis Suarez and whoever else. I wasn’t going to sleep with Alan Gordon anyway. But he certainly said it.
And it’s very reassuring to hear that Gordon will accept full responsibility - presumably the alternative was to blame Johnson for challenging Gordon’s sense of manhood with his overwhelming sexual magnetism. Because I imagine the price will be high, mitigated perhaps only by Gordon’s evident brain damage. If you’ve watched more than forty-five seconds of MLS coverage this year, you will have seen a campaign titled “Don’t Cross the Line.” It’s not about coloring books. Alan Gordon will have seen reminders of this campaign every single day this year.
Since the point of the campaign is “However negative you feel about racial, ethnic and gender minorities, please don’t shout such negativity at the top of your lungs, thank you in advance,” we can conclude that the campaign made about as much impression on Gordon as plankton sweat in the gullet of a blue whale. The league has to make an example of Gordon, because from the league’s PR point of view that was about as helpful as shouting “MLS isn’t as good as Liga MX, and people who watch are settling for an inferior product!” Gordon has thrown himself on the mercy of MLS, and shouldn’t be surprised at the strained quality of said mercy.
Even if MLS hadn’t been so concerned with linear integrity, you will also have noticed that one of the bigger stories in American soccer this year was the abrupt retirement of Robbie Rogers. Robbie even helpfully included American soccer as a bastion of intolerance, or at least acceptance of intolerance. You will have noticed, but Alan Gordon evidently didn’t. If he had, he might not have let loose with the most ill-advised challenge since Osama bin Laden told Seal Team Six they didn’t have the guts to pull that trigger.
All this is more than enough for MLS to put Gordon inside the wicker man and unleash the bees.
I suppose it’s theoretically possible that this was drummed into players’ heads so much, that it ended up like being told not to think of a polka-dotted rhinoceros. Fine. There’s another aspect of this that bothers me, and that’s the “heat of the moment” defense. And it is a defense, really. It’s seen as a mitigating factor – otherwise, why bring it up at all? No one imagines Gordon said it like William F. Buckley debating Gore Vidal.
Let’s say Gordon had been addressing the other Timber Johnson, and let fly the N-word.
Well, why not? Was it not the heat of the moment? Did Gordon not wish to anger Johnson?
Alternatively, is it not a mere uncomplimentary verbal joust? Why is one worse than the other?
The answer of course is that they are supposed to be the same. In society these days only Bull Connor fresh off the TARDIS would consider yelling the N-word in public. We seem to be almost there with the F-word.
Oh, one other thing. This is probably obvious to the point of physical pain, but Johnson is not the aggrieved party here. Alan Gordon was insulting an entire swath of society. One percent of an entire stadium is still a lot of people, and what Gordon was telling them - again, almost certainly "in the heat of the moment" - was that he does not respect them, and that if that's the sort of thing they prefer they should cheer for Will Johnson and Portland instead of Gordon and San Jose.
Of course he wasn't thinking of this when he said it, because he wasn't thinking at all. But in the course of a career that has taken him from Los Angeles to Toronto to Chivas City to San Jose to the US national team, Gordon has been cheered by gay and lesbian fans. It's mathematically impossible that hasn't happened. So how are those fans now supposed to feel?
MLS has to unleash an unprecedented punishment for a highly precedented action. Either the league has painted itself into a corner with their “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign, or it now has an opportunity to show this policy has teeth. We’ll find out pretty soon, but I’m guessing two months. The world is watching.