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Coffee with the Caps, Monday August 19

Well this is different

MLS: D.C. United at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Good Monday morning Caps fans. It is the first Monday in awhile where we can credibly claim a satisfying victory from the preceding weekend after the Caps shut down DC United (and Wayne Rooney) 1-0 on Saturday.

Less satisfying is another instance where a fan has been ejected from an MLS game for displaying signage expressing opposition to racism and fascism. The latest instance comes from Seattle, where several of the previous ejections also occurred, and is part of a recent trend which MLS has said such signage is overly political.

There are two problems at play here, and I will try to delve into both without getting into the political message of the sign itself (although it is probably not difficult to discern where I fall on that side of the equation as well).

The first issue is that MLS teams appear to be selectively enforcing what is allegedly a league wide policy. The article I linked above notes that Sounders’ fans have sought and won approval from the league to display signage with the “anti-fascist, anti-racist, always Seattle” slogan. If this is (allegedly) about making “both sides to be able to come and watch games without politics” then why was a waiver granted in the past?

Vancouver fans may well remember a similar banner being removed from a clash between the two clubs a couple years back. Yet Sporting Kansas City’s largest fan group, The Cauldron, unfurled a large tifo before their game against San Jose on Saturday, presumably with the team’s blessing. Again, if a league-wide policy exists (ludicrous and offensive as it may be), why isn’t it being enforced in a truly league-wide manner? And if it is left to the jurisdiction of the individual clubs to police, why is it that a handful of clubs (including Seattle and Atlanta, two of the league’s most prominent teams) are choosing to eject fans when others are not?

This all, obviously, overlooks the ridiculous statement that people should be able to watch games without politics. First of, for some people the struggle for rights and freedoms in the U.S. (and Canada) is so intense given the current political climate that everything in their lives, including sport, takes on a political dimension. To be able to go to a match and forget about politics is a luxury for the privileged.

Second, the notion that MLS games are free from politics is inane. This is not a groundbreaking point; many have made it repeatedly as the league selectively decides when to get political (usually when there is money to be made). The league has a halfhearted pride month, with clubs (including Vancouver) holding their own (often well-done) pride nights featuring partnerships with local organizations and rainbow motifs on uniforms.

Similarly, the league has been running a rather vague “Soccer for All” campaign for a few years now, in an effort “to foster more inclusive communities.” The press release announcing the effort is vague to the point of laugh-ability and makes no mention of a bevy of underrepresented groups, while focusing on ones that are more broadly politically popular.

The list of ways in which MLS games are inherently political could go on for pages: camo jerseys from DC United and other efforts to support the troops, Canada Day celebrations, a league-wide partnership with Chick-fil-A (known to support conservative and anti-LGBT causes), at least one kit sponsor (Leidos) which is a U.S. defense contractor, etc. Even the playing of the national anthem before matches is a decision to promote a certain kind of nationalism and is in and of itself a political choice.

Several of these efforts (Pride Nights, supporting military organizations, partnering with Special Olympics) are worthy efforts and even be expanded. But the brazen decisions made by clubs and the league office to pursue some political opportunities for the sake of money while removing “political” signage because it may offend is hypocritical at best and morally bankrupt at worse. The league’s tacit endorsement of white supremacists in its fan groups makes this even worse.

Its a shame because MLS is missing a chance to capitalize on gains made by the NBA, who has made a decision to add a social element to a world class sports league. There has been no discernible impact on the economic fortunes of the NBA; to the contrary, the league has never been more popular.

Make no mistake: MLS should do the right thing here simply because its the moral course of action. But it is also disappointing that the league does not see that the right thing will help foster growth and inclusion within its own ranks—two things it claims to support.

Onto the links:

Shameless Self Promotion

We round up the Caps’ surprisingly convincing win with a match recap from Jitsuo and a report card from Ian Jones

Best of the Rest

There was a regime change at the top of the East last night, with Atlanta United besting Portland in an MLS Cup rematch to move into first place

Meanwhile the Sounders are in a tailspin after a draw with LA Galaxy, despite being up a man for over 80 minutes

The Guardian takes a deep dive into the never-ending pay-to-play academy structure in the U.S.

USL’s Phoenix Rising has continued the greatest streak in the history of sport: its undefeated run on $1 beer night

As an aside, Coffee with the Caps will be on brief hiatus as I become the second 86F staffer to (temporarily) head to the Asia-Pacific region later this week. You’ll still see me around the site but CWtC will be taking a pause until my triumphant return to the Caps’ having hired a superlative sporting director (please? pretty please?). Until then, all the best and have a lovely week