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The Salt: Mike Petke has tarnished Real Salt Lake

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There are no more excuses.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

It’s not often that I feel the need to write this column twice in a week.

Sometimes, it’s because things are going really well, and I’m just excited to talk about things.

Today? It’s the complete opposite.

Let’s break down what just happened.

The punishment

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke has been:

  • Suspended for three games
  • Given a $25,000 fine
  • Given a mandate to attend anger management, sensitivity and diversity training
  • Banned from interacting with the team for two weeks, during which time he will not be paid his salary

The responses and key phrases: Major League Soccer

Here’s the statement from MLS Commissioner Don Garber, which I’ll break up to discuss.

There is absolutely no place for this type of behavior in our society, and Major League Soccer does not tolerate the repugnant language used by Mr. Petke.

This, to me, confirms that Petke said that of which he had been accused. He had been accused of using a homophobic Spanish slur — look it up if you have to — which was visible, if less than 100 percent certain, in video taken after the match. This would very easily fall under “repugnant language,” and while the release does not exactly specify that was the word he used, we can be safe in carrying that assumption forward.

All MLS players, staff and fans must know that these comments are unacceptable, and I am extremely disappointed that a leader of one of our clubs used such insensitive language.

As are we all, Don.

We are committed to providing an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect at all times.

The responses and key phrases: Real Salt Lake

This is an unattributed statement from the the Real Salt Lake organization:

We hold everyone in our organization — particularly the leadership — to the highest standards and expect them to treat everyone with dignity and respect. We have the utmost respect for the referees, PRO and Major League Soccer and will be working with the League to ensure that everyone in our organization treats all referees, players, coaches and fans with the dignity, respect, civility and professionalism that is consistent with our values.

This is good. For too long, Petke has been abusing referees over decisions. At the end of his three-match suspension, he will have been suspended for six games in less than three years at Real Salt Lake, all of it for actions taken in regard to referees. This is the first time it has bubbled into a public confrontation, and that alone is completely unacceptable.

This, on top of it? “Repugnant language,” as Garber said? Petke is in an untenable position.

Although we appreciate Coach Petke’s passion and drive to win, it should never come at the expense of those values.

Completely. Unfortunately, it has, and we have to deal with it.

We support and agree with the League’s decision on this matter. Real Salt Lake will additionally be suspending Coach Petke from all club activity for two weeks, without pay.

You know, it’s a start. I wonder if something happens during those two weeks. I’ll be watching very curiously.

In addition, he will be required to attend anger management courses to help remedy what has been a recurring issue and he will be required to issue written apologies to both the League and the individual referees.

I’m also curious what kind of public apology Petke will make. In previous instances, his apologies have been — shall we say — a bit hollow. Particularly, he once apologized “for CURSING on air” rather than for the public anger which saw him ejected from that match. In 2017, he had this gem: “If I do not act the way I do, I can’t sleep the next four weeks.”

Anything approaching a non-apology won’t be even close to good enough here. If Petke remains at the club, and if anything even a little like this happens again, we should summarily show him the door. I suspect there’s no alternative.

As a Club we apologize to our fans for this incident and going forward will continue to demand that all staff adhere to the highest personal standards, without excuse.

What did Mike Petke actually do?

The following tweets align closely with what I’ve heard about Petke’s actions following the Leagues Cup match, so we can let them do the hard work here. This is uncorroborated on the record, but my understanding is that it’s accurate.

Thoughts

Mike Petke, through his actions and his words, has represented Real Salt Lake in the poorest of light. He has knowingly used language that we shouldn’t accept from anyone, let alone a person in a role of authority. He’s done this as a representative of the club. He has tarnished the image of this club.

To think that Pekte’s behavior happened in a state where a referee died just six years ago after being assaulted by a teenager during a match — it just boggles the mind. The utter disdain he showed for another human — another professional — is remarkable.

Further, if Petke is going to speak publicly about being in support of gay rights, he can’t then turn around and repeatedly shout a homophobic slur. He certainly can’t continue that same act into the tunnel.

It’s absolutely shameful, and no apology can correct it. Is it a fireable offense? I am somewhat relieved to be in a position where I am not tasked with deciding that, because it’s a question without an easy answer, but one hard answer.

That said, he has behaved in an extremely offensive way, and there is no excusing that. If there is no excusing that, then allowing him to continue in a public role is a non-starter. Petke has acted in a way that rules him out from the role of a coach.

Can Petke come back from this? It’s on him. Change is never seen overnight, and it’s not seen over a two-week period. This is something Petke must sincerely change over the course of his life. These acts will follow him for the rest of his life, and it’s completely on him to behave, over time, in a way that absolves him of his wrongs.