Marc Burch’s playoffs over: MLS hands Seattle defender three-game suspension

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Late Saturday night, Major League Soccer announced the news we were all expecting. Seattle Sounders defender Marc Burch, having admitted to using a homophobic slur in Thursday’s match against Real Salt Lake, has been suspended for three games, the same punishment Houston’s Colin Clark received earlier this year for a similar offense.

That means Burch is out for the playoffs. If Seattle doesn’t make the MLS Cup Final, Burch will sit out the first game of the 2013 season.

Burch was also fined and assigned mandatory diversity and sensitivity training.

“Major League Soccer has a zero tolerance policy in response to this type of behavior from its players or staff,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, via a statement disrupted (sic) by the league.  “While I understand and believe that Mr. Burch is remorseful, Major League Soccer is committed to providing an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect.”

The four takeaways on our minds:

The message: No tolerance – There were a number of small differences that distinguished Burch’s offense from Clark’s, but MLS’s ruling affirms they are, in fact, small. The overarching point (and precedent): Intolerance is unacceptable. Expect a three-game ban whenever players make Burch’s mistake.

Why so long? – Burch issued his public apology mid-day on Friday. What took Major League Soccer so long to act? The suspension was announced only 22 hours before kickoff of Sunday’s match in Los Angeles.

One theory that sounds pretty legit: The league notified the parties on Friday but waited a day to announce, giving the appeal process time to play out.

Who plays left back? – Burch was only starting on Thursday because first choice left back Leo Gonzalez is injured. Though the Costa Rican is improving, the team had already conceded Burch was preparing to start on Sunday. (Why? Who knows.) That tells us Gonzalez probably isn’t ready. Expect Zach Scott, who we haven’t seen since picking up two yellow cards in a regular season game against Real Salt Lake, to get the start.

Move on, but don’t forget – Credit to Burch for owning up to his error, and based on what we’ve heard from the veteran defender, he is intent on making amends. By all reports, Burch is a good guy, which makes this incident even more poignant.

In our culture – particularly in sports culture – this type of intolerance is often so pervasive that it’s often unconscious. While MLS’s responses to Burch and Clark have been admirable, the problem transcends anything one league can do. More broadly, as a culture, we must continue to make strides.

If people even good people are susceptible to these types of mistakes, then as a society, we need a more intense, more public dialog about the issue.