Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Hernandez has been suspended for the remainder of the 2021 season for betting on a pair of MLS games, the league announced on Friday.
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The 23-year-old disclosed to Sporting Kansas City members of staff earlier this year that he feared for his own safety due to the status of his gambling debts. An investigation into Hernandez’s activity later revealed that he had previously placed online bets on a pair of MLS games, neither of which involved his team.
Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes said on Friday that “the majority of [Hernandez’s] betting was done on other sporting events” — in other words, outside of MLS.
In a statement of his own, Hernandez revealed that he began receiving treatment for a gambling addiction shortly after his disclosure.
— Felipe Hernandez (@Fe1ipe98) October 8, 2021
Up until his disclosure on July 5, Hernandez was in the middle of a breakout season for an MLS Cup-contending team, as he appeared to have secured a starting spot in central midfield. Hernandez turned in four straight 90-minute shifts (three wins and a loss for Sporting Kansas City), tallying a goal and two assists during the summer run, from June 19 to July 4. The next morning, he came forward to ask for help. Hernandez hasn’t played or trained with his teammates in the three months since.
“He knows that he wasn’t supposed to be gambling,” Vermes said in a press conference on Friday. “But, he still came forward, and that’s not an easy thing to do. He could easily let his mind race and say, ‘Hey, maybe I’d never play soccer again in Major League Soccer,’ so it took a lot of courage for him to do that.”
From MLS’s news release:
Major League Soccer initiated an investigation on July 5, 2021, after Hernandez disclosed to Sporting Kansas City that he was concerned about his personal safety due to his gambling debts. MLS and Sporting Kansas City immediately took steps to refer the matter to law enforcement and ensure that Hernandez received necessary support and counseling. MLS engaged the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP (Paul, Weiss) to conduct an independent investigation. Hernandez has been suspended since July 2021 pending completion of the MLS and law enforcement investigations, both of which have now concluded. Paul, Weiss, in cooperation with law enforcement, undertook an extensive review, including conducting witness interviews, examining data from online gambling accounts and reviewing analyses of betting activity on certain MLS matches. Based on that review, Paul, Weiss has made the following findings:
- Hernandez engaged in extensive and unlawful sports gambling while a member of Sporting Kansas City.
- Hernandez placed online bets on two MLS matches while a member of Sporting Kansas City. Sporting Kansas City was not a participant in either of those matches.
- No evidence was found that Hernandez possessed confidential or otherwise non-public information concerning those two MLS matches.
- No evidence was found that Hernandez ever bet on an MLS match involving his own team.
- No evidence was found that the integrity of any MLS match was impacted by the sports gambling activities under investigation.
- No evidence was found of any other gambling by MLS players on MLS matches.
Hernandez cooperated fully with the league’s investigation and will be eligible for reinstatement on January 1, 2022 on application to the Commissioner, who will consider Hernandez’s compliance based on certain directives, including ongoing counseling.