MLS (Finally) Responds to Complaints of Sexism

"This portion of the show has been edited. We apologize for any offense that may have been taken for the earlier version." ~ Unnamed voice, re-edited version of ExtraTime Podcast (originally released April 30, 2012)

It seems posts like the one I wrote yesterday (among many others circulating on the internet) struck a nerve, and forced MLS to respond. The latest flashpoint came when Simon Borg made comments on the April 30 edition of the ExtraTime Radio Podcast, which is produced by MLSsoccer.com, that disparaged female fans who were "too" into soccer as "unappealing."

Here is what has happened in the meantime:

- It became the talk of social media among the MLS crowd yesterday.

- Many people wrote excellent responses throughout the day (I've linked to them at the bottom of this post if you want to read more)

- The April 30 podcast of ETR was pulled off iTunes last night, with no initial explanation.

- A re-edited version of the April 30 show was put up on iTunes (it is dated May 2, 2012, but it nearly identical to the April 30 edition). While most of the surrounding segment leading up to Borg's comments remain in the show, a robotic, unnamed voice offered the remarks at the top of this post ("This portion of the show has been edited...")

- MLSsoccer.com (the official league website) released a statement this morning. I'll reproduce it in its entirety here:

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER STATEMENT

During the latest episode of the ExtraTime Radio podcast on MLSsoccer.com, one of the hosts -- Simon Borg -- made inappropriate remarks regarding female fans of Major League Soccer. These remarks were unacceptable and in no way reflect the values of MLS, its clubs, players, staff, or MLSsoccer.com. We apologize on behalf of our organization for those remarks. Respect for diversity is a core principle of MLS and we are proud of the diversity of our League and its fans.

Mr. Borg will be suspended from his position at MLSsoccer.com for seven days, effective immediately. All MLS employees undergo diversity and sensitivity training on an annual basis, and Mr. Borg and the entire MLS Digital group will receive additional sensitivity training promptly.

I think this is a good start. I was going to offer some unsolicited advice to the league as to how to fix this problem. They offered a weak apology in the podcast, but they offered a much more sincere and straightforward apology in the written statement. They're getting better at this.

Here's the difference between the two apologies: the podcast apology puts the onus on the people who took offense to the remarks. In other words, it effectively said that most people weren't bothered by it, but for those of you who were, sorry you felt hurt. This is passive and condescending.

In contrast, the latest apology doesn't put the onus on people who feel bad. It validates their attitudes, and is an active apology that owns up to mistakes. Full credit there.

I was going to recommend sincere apologies from Borg and MLSsoccer.com Editor-in-chief Greg Lalas. Since Borg is returning to work shortly, he still should make an apology when he gets back. No attempt to explain himself, or to play the pantomime villain, but to be contrite.

I think it wouldn't be a bad idea for Lalas to offer an apology for past sexist material present on the league website the past few months that I described yesterday. The more full-on acknowledgment the better, as everybody can then move on and think about actual soccer again.

I was going to suggest a suspension for Borg. I was thinking 4-6 weeks, but I suppose that was too much to expect. Perhaps not as much as folks in the comment section recommended yesterday (firing seemed to be the predominant sentiment), but I suppose a week is a start.

Here's my last recommendation: consider hiring some women in the media production departments. I know a lot of women work for the league and the respective clubs, but I don't see much on the league website, in the vast majority of the videos being produced by the league, and on the podcasts produced by the league (ExtraTime Radio, the new San Francisco-based March to the Match, and the Spanish-language Tiro Libre). I don't want a woman to be hired to fill a quota. I want women who know their stuff about soccer (you know, there are a lot who fit that bill), who are qualified, and who will produce good work. Without incorporating women, and simultaneously including sexist material in the league-produced media, the perception that a "boy's club" runs the league's media will persist.

I doubt having articles with bylines of female names, or guests or even regular co-hosts on the podcasts who happen to be women will cause the fanbase to run away in horror. If anything, it will encourage more fans to follow and/or continue to support a league that values all contributors, regardless of gender.

Above all, I think the league media is taking steps in the right direction, and I commend them for it. But I think there's more they can do to put this issue to rest.

Link roundup:

Here are some of the many articles I saw in the past day concerning the league and sexism, in no particular order:

- This is from Jezebel.com, a site that I'm pretty sure seldom covers MLS, but that's an indication of how significant this event was.

- Dirty Tackle on yahoo.com weighed in as well.

- Park Effects offers a parallel to the culture surrounding NFL fanhood.

- MLS Reserves gives his take on the matter.

- Here's a poster from Brent Diskin, as posted on Stumptown Footy. Where can I order that?

- Julia at Simple Little Game adds her perspective.

- Emily Ainsworth over at Total MLS gives her take.

- Trista Lutgring's perspective over at Aerys Sports.

- Women's United FC, a recently-launched site meant to provide a community for female soccer fans, also wrote a post about it. A representative from the group is scheduled to appear on ExtraTime Radio tomorrow.

- Finally, you must check out this post from Jennifer Doyle at From a Left Wing. She breaks down the sexual politics of the entire conversation on the podcast in a remarkable way, and I think it is a fantastic read that might make you think twice about sex and sports.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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