The Morrison Report: Meaning What You Say Edition

The opinion expressed here is that of the author alone, and does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including 107ist or the Timbers Army.

I had hoped this whole ordeal was over Wednesday morning after the Disciplinary Committee gave Mario de Luna a one-game suspension in addition to the match he will miss due to yellow card accumulation.  On Wednesday, the MLS Players Union, however, decided to breathe troubling new life into a controversy that really shouldn’t be.

In case you missed it, after the ball went out of bounds off of a Chivas USA player in the 86th minute of Sunday’s game, de Luna tripped Rodney Wallace and grabbed at a ball a ball kid was holding.  When the ball kid pulled away – likely having seen that the referee immediately pointed for a correctly identified Timbers’ throw – de Luna pushed the young man and took the ball from him.

After the MLS Disciplinary Committee issued a one game suspension,[1] the MLS Players Union issued this statement, in full:

Players Union Statement on Discipline of Mario de Luna

Physical contact between a player and a ball boy should never occur. Rather than focusing exclusively on player punishment, however, the league must eliminate ball boy antics, as the Players Union requested last year.  There should be no place in our game for off-field personnel to attempt to impact play on the field.

The failure to address this problem substantially increases the risk of unfortunate incidents like we saw last weekend.  The league and our teams must do their part to keep our stadiums safe.  We urge the league once again to take action and hold teams accountable for the conduct of their ball boys.

Now, if you blinked while reading that, you may have missed that you missed something; to wit, a statement on the discipline of Mario de Luna.  In fact, on its face, the statement says nothing at all about Mario de Luna or his punishment.

A couple hours later, Eddie Pope, former U.S. Men’s National Team player and current Director of Player Relations for the MLS Players Union, added this clarification in a string of tweets:

The intent of our press release was not to place blame on the ball boy.  Rather, the purpose was to [shed] light on the fact that we have [e]ncouraged MLS in the past to take preventive measures so this type of incident[,] or something more serious[,] does not happen in the future.  Why put a kid in a position to possibly inadvertently impact tempo of game?  Kids should not be put in any positional [sic] within or near the [h]eat of competition.  We don’t condone any contact with a ball boy, we want to prevent this from happening again in the future.  Publicly[,] we ask the MLS to take some measures and remove children from the heat of battle.  We will in turn continue to do everything we can as well.  Status quo is not working.  Third incident in a little over a year.

Pope’s clarification, however, is disingenuous.  His overriding message was that ball kids “should not be put in any [position] within or near the [h]eat of competition.”  Essentially, the job of shagging soccer balls and tossing them to players should be vested in adults because the intensity of a soccer game can sometimes put youngsters in a difficult position, even if by no fault of their own.

This is a perfectly reasonable point.[2]  But it’s not the one his organization made in its release.

In its release, the Union demanded that the league “eliminate ball boy antics,” not eliminate the employment of ball kids.  Similarly, the statement asked the League to hold home teams “accountable for the conduct of their ball boys.”  It did not ask the League to prohibit ball boys.

The Union’s press release postulated that there was no place in the game for “off-field personnel to attempt to impact play on the field.”  It did not rue putting ball kids in a position to “possibly inadvertently impact [the] tempo of [the] game.”  Using the word “attempt” necessarily implicates intent.  There is simply no such thing as an accidental, or even negligent attempt.[3]

The Union’s ultimate thesis, then, was that failure to address this problem – the problem being ball kid “antics,” “conduct,” and “attempt[s] to impact play on the field” – “increases the risk of unfortunate incidents like we saw last weekend.”

The issue is that the “problem” identified by the Union is not what led to Sunday’s incident.  The ball kid did the right thing.  He did his job.  And he did it well.  No antics, improper conduct, or attempts to impact the play on the field.

The statement the Union made inescapably implied that this ball kid did something wrong.  That unwarranted public condemnation is far worse than anything Mario de Luna did on Sunday.

Now, it’s no longer about what the Union said, or what Pope would like you to think the Union said.  Rather, it’s about what the Union needs to say to the young man that unfairly found himself in the center of the Union’s mess.  “We were wrong.  We’re sorry.”

[1] For my part, I think the suspension was about right.  What de Luna did was unacceptable, but it wasn’t especially aggravated.  He pushed the young man.  He didn’t do anything likely to cause the young man physical harm, or otherwise use unacceptable language or employ a racial or homophobic slur.  He was a jerk and a poor role model.  One game seems about right.

[2] I’m not sure I agree with it – or, to be perfectly honest, feel strongly about it either way – but the point is reasonable.

[3] Merriam-Webster defines “attempt” as “to make an effort to do, accomplish, solve, or effect.”

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2 Responses to The Morrison Report: Meaning What You Say Edition

  1. Daniel Kelten says:

    1. Did Pope (or spokesperson of original statement) not see the event?
    2. Has Pope (or spokesperson of original statement) not read the Rule Book?
    3. Does the Players’ Union not hold players accountable for their actions?

  2. Anthony Renteria says:

    Let me point out to Mr. Pope that we are in fact at war, for real, and that equating what some overpaid moron does on the pitch does not equate to what the men and women of this country are doing in far off places where life or death is the result of a poor decision. This is, in it’s very nature a game, with rules and if Mr. de Luna or any other player can’t play by the rules they should be suspended. The ball boy did his job. He knew the rules and he was on that field for the love of the game. de Luna gets paid to know the rules and one of them is don’t touch the ballkids. The players union should be ashamed of itself that it is asking the league to change instead of making its’ players accountable for being good human beings. Their statement practically condones de Luna’s behavior as acceptable in the course of “war”. Eddie Pope should be forced to do a tour of duty before he opens his mouth again.

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