Let it be said that Major League Soccer got it right when it suspended Colin Clark three games, fined him an undisclosed amount and ordered him to attend sensitivity training after he yelled a homophobic slur at a ball boy in the 8th minute of the Houston Dynamo's game against the Seattle Sounders on Friday. Let it also be said that he reacted appropriately by accepting the punishment.
It would be great if we could let those two things stand on their own, but ... of course we can't. Invariably, there have been calls from around the internet asking why Lee Nguyen didn't receive a similarly harsh punishment for using the same word on Twitter a couple months ago. While the same word may have been used in both instances, these comparisons ignore the wildly different contexts in which they were used.
If you need a refresher, here's what Nguyen said -- on Twitter -- and the subsequent fall out. It's worth pointing out that Nguyen was having a conversation with a teammate and, while clearly inappropriate and even offensive, he was clearly joking around. He immediately apologized, but no the league took no action against him. Everyone chalked it up to a learning experience and, I thought, it was handled appropriately.
Nguyen was guilty of being an idiot, nothing more. What Clark did was something completely different.
Clark received no such benefit of the doubt for reasons that should be obvious to everyone. For starters, his remark was directed at a kid and meant as an insult. Why Clark felt compelled to use those words for what appeared to be an otherwise innocuous incident early in the game in which tempers had not even had a chance to flare is something only he can answer. He now says he'll exorcise that word from his vocabulary, but he seems to realize that he used it in one of the most offensive contexts possible.
To compare these two incidents only serves to cheapen the seriousness of Clark's actions. No reasonable person should think they are remotely similar.
Equally ridiculous is the suggestion that somehow MLS must punish every instance of on-field expletives. This was not an example of one player yelling at another, at a referee or even cursing at no one in particular. Clark was yelling at a ball boy, who he apparently felt did not feed him the ball with the appropriate accuracy on a throw-in. It was so over-the-top and uncalled for that it almost boggles the mind. MLS had to do something and what they did was perfectly appropriate.