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Are MLS and the Fans Overreacting Over Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s ‘Pitch Rage?’

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Within the last week, the roar around the Chicago Fire’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco and D.C. United’s Clyde Simms incident has swelled and is finally subsiding.

For those who have yet to catch wind of the fracas, reports indicate it took place during the U.S. Open Cup match between the Chicago Fire and D.C. United, beginning with Blanco taking what appeared to be nearly a full swing at Simms’ ribs, who was holding the ball at the time.

Other D.C. players indicated that shortly thereafter, Blanco also gouged Simms’ eye. Naturally Blanco was red carded, as was D.C. United defender Marc Burch, who had come to Simms’ aid. However, Blanco didn’t head straight for the locker room, instead focusing towards the bench. When instructed to change his course to the locker room by a D.C. United employee, Blanco head butted the employee.

“He came up and swung as hard as he could,” Burch told reporters. “He tried to hit the ball and hit Clyde in the stomach. He thinks he can do whatever he wants. I pushed him. I didn’t hit him. I didn’t go after him. I just pushed him down. He’s not going to do that to my teammate. He stood up and tried to poke Clyde in the eye and cut his eye open.”

The other side of the story, as told by the Fire, is that Blanco’s actions were misinterpreted. Fire spokesman Gregg Elkin told Chicago Sports that Blanco wanted to get the ball back in play. The game was in overtime, the Fire was down a goal, and Blanco thought Simms was stalling. Blanco also denied gouging Simms’ eye. As for the alleged head butt, Elkin stated that Blanco was not trying to disobey the red card requirements. As reported by Chicago Sports, “[Blanco] stopped by the bench to pick up his gear,” said Elkin. “He wasn’t stalling or yelling at the official. The situation was under control, but the D.C. person got in his face and yelled at him to leave the bench.” Elkin also took issue with the D.C. United employee entering the Fire’s restricted area, and denied that Blanco head butted anyone. “Blanco turns to walk by the guy and grazed his cheek with his forehead. It was completely accidental.” Elkin later told Goal.com. “[Blanco] stopped on the side of the field to pick up his things, then, when he was turning around, his forehead did make contact with the guy’s cheek or jaw area.”

The federation’s disciplinary committee will meet soon to determine what punishment fits Blanco’s crime, outside of the usual one-game suspension. Elkin stated the Fire will await the federation’s ruling before taking any action. “The federation has asked for video that D.C. apparently has and then that’s up to them.”

Blanco’s anger management issues are far from new. Two weeks prior, reports surfaced that Blanco and Fire teammate Wilman Conde were in an altercation that was described as a “fistfight.” In 2003, Blanco sucker punched a TV Azteca reporter, David Faitelson, who had criticized him, and in 2004, Blanco elbowed a rival player on Brazil’s Sao Caetano team, which spurred a fray between the two clubs. After that incident. Blanco was suspended from playing in South America for a year.

Then, to add insult to injury to some angered MLS fans, the video footage of the recent incident went missing from Youtube. Some fans argued that the MLS had no right to take the footage down, as the U.S. Cup was a non-MLS game. Some conspiracy theories surrounding the MLS surfaced, ranging from the MLS wishing to shut down any other U.S. competition, to taking illegal actions in sending Youtube (who originally aired the footage) an illegal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMC) take down notice.

MLS fans have generally been unforgiving of Blanco’s actions. On a Big Soccer message board thread, some called for Blanco to be arrested, while some called Blanco a “pathological bully.” On a Section 8 messageboard, Fire fans’ reactions ranged from agreeing that Blanco was out of line who needed at least a 1-2 game ban, to others ignoring it as an overblown incident, to a few who just seemed to believe Blanco’s reaction was indicative of the frustration of the entire team.

While no one should be arguing that Blanco’s actions were acceptable, there does seem to be a degree of overreaction. To begin, there is at least one explanation for what happened with the mysterious Youtube video disappearance. MLS owns and controls all trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property rights that relate in any way to the league or any of its teams. (Law for Recreation and Sports Managers, Doyice Cotten, John T. Wolohan, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2003). Thus, because the teams playing were part of the single-entity MLS structure, wherein teams are controlled by the league, MLS apparently still retained its control over any material that flowed from the game. Thus, MLS was fully within its legal authority to ask the video to be removed. While it certainly soured many fans who wished to replay the incident, it also perpetuated the overreaction by making the footage unavailable, leaving it to be interpreted by secondhand description alone.

The upset over Blanco’s behavior, however, cannot be so tidily summarized. It’s difficult to dispute, even without seeing it, that Blanco was out of line, but that’s the more obvious conclusion. The bigger picture, so to speak, is that every other international league has already seen this sort of behavior, albeit not in this context. Who can forget Roy Keane’s performance in the 2001 Manchester derby (doubtful that Alf-Inge HÃ¥land does)? More recently in the 2006 World Cup, Zidane’s infamous head butt, and Wayne Rooney’s alleged crotch kicking to Ricardo Carvalho?

Sure, an eye gouge is irresponsible and out of line. But head butts we’ve seen before, and although non-players are typically out of bounds, that didn’t stop Eric Cantona’s kung fu kick. And Joey Barton, who is currently in jail for assault (punching an individual over 20 times), has a string of antics over the past few years that make Blanco’s actions pale in comparison (see: inciting the Doncaster Rovers — Manchester City brawl after his hacking foul on John Doolan, Barton putting out a cigar on Jamie Tandy’s eye, attacking a 15 year old Everton supporter, attacking and possibly detaching former team mate Ousmane Dabo’s retina, etc.)

Maybe it can all be chalked up to the MLS and its fans refusing to tolerate bad behavior, which is perfectly fine. But both the fans and the MLS seem to have overreacted a bit (calling for Blanco to be arrested, MLS in removing the video). It may be indicative of the MLS’s infancy, as this is one of its first, if not the first, incidents of a player behaving badly and not apologizing for it. Yes, Blanco seems to have an anger problem but so do other players who have been red carded for reacting badly. There’s no argument that Blanco’s actions were both unprofessional and wrong, and if the investigation shows that Blanco truly attempted to punch Simms, gouge out Simms’ eye, and then purposefully head butt a D.C. employee, he should be disciplined further.

Blanco’s actions are nothing to be proud of, but outrageous fouls tend to occasionally come part and parcel with professional soccer, which, despite what some critics will tell you, is exactly what the MLS is.

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