It’s been a painful four days in U.S. soccer land, and not because Sepp Blatter took a shot at Major League Soccer. His comments were ignorant and unnecessary, but it’s not the first time the FIFA president has said something ignorant and unnecessary. It’s just the first time this week.
As far as stupid Sepp tricks go, this was far from the worst thing he’s ever said. His contention that MLS is struggling is so demonstrably false, it could be dismissed without comment. Yes, MLS can be bigger, but it’s not closing its doors anytime soon. This isn’t 2004.
But having been through this Blatter rodeo a number of times now, it’s frustrating that we can’t just treat Blatter like the metaphorical troll he’s become. Instead, we overreact. Every time, we overreact. We light up social media, start our protests, ignite the same debates we’ve been having for the past three years. Every time Sepp opens his mouth, it becomes Groundhog Day.
Nobody goes to a circus and expects wisdom from a clown, yet we take Blatter’s words at face value. We break out petitions, say something has to change, but then quickly move on, the whole process playing out like short term immersion therapy which, while making us feel better about all the insecurities we exposed, also wipes our memories. The next time Sepp peeps, we jump back on the wheel.
All the while, we never stop and ask: Why do we only only react when Blatter’s ignorance hits us? Why do we ignore the fact that Blatter Rage was non-existent before the U.S. failed to win the rights to the 2022 World Cup? Those factors don’t absolve Blatter’s comments, but they do help explain why we can’t move on.
In a soccer world that’s produced Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hammam, and Ricardo Teixeira, it’s unlikely the mere ouster of Blatter would change the international landscape. And nothing Blatter says will change the fact that the games will go on, tournament will be waged, and MLS will continue to grow. While there’s almost nothing to recommend Blatter for the position he holds, there’s also (for good and bad) more to this picture than this caricature of a man prodding a sensitive fan base.
His words are just air, air I’ve wasted too much space addressing here. Either ignore them or roll with them, but don’t get worked up over the crazy guy barking at the moon. And if you do, at least wait for something sexist to come out of his mouth (again). Major League Soccer can take care of itself.
On Wednesday, MLS commissioner Don Garber gave a great example of how to deal Blatter’s semi-annual hiccups. His overall approach: Don’t take it seriously, focus on the positives, and try to convert (not reject).
I’m not sure I agree with the last tactic, but that’s why I’m not Don Garber. From reporting by the Washington Post’s Steven Goff:
In a phone interview with the Insider, Garber said: “I really don’t believe the president believes we are struggling. I don’t think anybody in the pro sports community would describe us that way. In no way are we struggling, but we are less than 20 years old; we haven’t gone through a full generational term.”
Not that you’d expect hyperventilation from somebody like Garber, but this is a direct, measured response which, devoid of defensiveness, ends up presenting the league as confident and self-aware. Seems like a pretty sound approach.
“The other major [U.S. sports] leagues are so deeply embedded in the culture and have been for generations,” Garber said. “MLS, in a short period of time, has made great progress. But we have not been around for 100 years like [some] other [U.S.] leagues and certainly like the European soccer leagues, and as such, our development is appropriate to where we are from an age perspective.”
It doesn’t make good Twitter fodder, but Garber’s response is much more sensible than hitting a big red button every time Blatter speaks up. Hey, MLS is fine, he’s saying. We’ve got a ways to go, but struggling? I know that’s not true.
We all know that’s not true. And we knew it before Sepp sounded off.
There’s more in Steven Goff’s piece, but more valuable than hearing Don Garber react to accusations so prima facie ridiculous is sensing his approach. No commissioner likes to hear his league denigrated, but Garber’s been in this position before. Rather than sound the alarms and treat the remarks as something harmful, he just rolls with it.
Though you never know. He may have still signed a petition.