The MLS Disciplinary Committee has been a busy lot recently, doling out a weekly dose of after-the-fact suspensions and fines which, for the most part, have been viewed as a justifiable way of making sure no untoward act by players falls through the cracks.
Last weekend, Rafa Marquez tossed the committee a softball when he tackled San Jose's Shea Salinas to the ground, shattered his collarbone, and added an intentional boot to the face for good measure.
On Thursday, the Disciplinary Committee took a mighty cut and whiffed badly, suspending the Red Bulls midfielder a paltry three games for his assault on Salinas.
In doing so, MLS showed that recidivism can be mitigated by star-power, that the “what” in some cases is less important than the “who”, and worst of all, brought decisions the committee has made in the past back into question.
Consider: Last month, the Houston Dynamo's Colin Clark was suspended three games for hurling a homophobic slur at a Seattle ball boy that was captured by on-field microphones. At the time the decision was applauded, but now, in hindsight, is a mindless insult deserving of the same suspension as shattering a player's collarbone into four pieces?
Sticks and stones (and Rafa) will break your bones, but words should never require the same punishment.
The Disciplinary Committee has shown in the past that it's not just the challenge that determines the length of a suspension, it's the result of said challenge. Chivas USA's Marcos Mondaini got five games for breaking Javier Morales' ankle last season. Colorado's Brian Mullan got 10 games for breaking Steve Zakuani's leg.
Meanwhile, similar challenges this season from D.C. United's Brandon McDonald and Houston's Adam Moffat have warranted one-game suspensions after review. The challenges were dangerous, but the players at the receiving end walked away unhurt.
MLS broke its own precedent in giving Marquez three matches for a play that will see Salinas sidelined for 6-8 weeks after helping San Jose to a 4-1-1 start.
Most damning, however, is that despite the fact Marquez is no stranger to the Disciplinary Committee, the league has essentially given a repeat offender the same punishment as his previous suspension for doing something far more innocuous.
In last year's playoff match against the Galaxy, Marquez tossed a ball and struck LA's Landon Donovan after the final whistle, setting off a minor melee, and ending with Marquez shamefully clutching his face and writhing on the ground after hardly being touched.
The league suspended the Mexican international two games in addition to his one-game suspension for his red card, for a total of three games. When announcing the discipline, the league said, "Marquez's conduct was violent and aggressive and put the league in disrepute."
Despite the league discipline, it's important to consider that in the Galaxy incident, nobody was injured. The same can't be said of Marquez's next episode.
Five months later, MLS handed Marquez another three-game suspension and said his "actions were viewed as violent conduct that demonstrated blatant disregard for the safety of his opponent.”
So, in summary, a player being suspended by the league for a second time, for something demonstratively worse then his first suspension, received essentially the same punishment. How does this make sense?
The same day Marquez's suspension was announced, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the Red Bulls looking to make inroads in a crowded New York sports market. One of the interesting revelations in the article was that starting next month, Red Bull plans to sell 1.3 million cans of its sugary, caffeinated namesake adorned with Marquez's image.
Would these cans be as easy of a sell if the player on the front was sidelined with a lengthy suspension? Would the Red Bulls have more trouble selling tickets to New York's Hispanic population? It's hard to say, but these are relevant question that should be directed towards the league and the Red Bulls.
Whatever the case, in Marquez's suspension, MLS has equivocated and showed that sometimes, the action committed isn't as important as the parties involved.
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