Last March the commissioner of Major League Soccer (MLS), Don Garber, suspended Seattle Sounders defender Marc Burch when television cameras caught him using a homophobic slur against an opponent during a match against Real Salt Lake. The suspension was a big deal at the time because the Sounders were in the final matches of competition for the MLS cup and, had the team advanced to the finals, Burch would have been ineligible to compete. Additionally, Gerber took the time to issue this statement:
“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.”
It was in these actions, and the ones taken against the homophobic slur given by Colin Clark, that the MLS showed the steps they are willing to take to make sure that all of their fans as well as any current and future players, regardless of sexual orientation, feel accepted within an inclusive environment.
Recently, Marc Burch himself echoed the ideology of the MLS by issuing statements supporting the suspension placed upon him. Burch stated that, "I think Don Garber made the right decision" (in reference to the suspension). Adding that he, "knew when the suspension was coming down that it need to be harsh, because (as he states) it's a harsh thing that I did." Burch also touched upon the very popular possibility of men's professional sports one day seeing see an openly gay athlete. Burch feels that not only will there be an out gay athlete in men's professional sports soon, but the athlete will play in the MLS. In reference to a player coming out as gay, Burch states that, “I think it will come and go a lot easier than people think. It’s going to happen, and I think (the MLS) is a perfect league for it.”
The statements released by Burch come at a time of unprecedented public attention to the LGBT movement by professional sports, and soccer in particular. In 2011 ex-Columbus Crew midfielder David Testo publicly came out as gay and added to this by discussing that, "living the life of a professional athlete and being gay is incredibly hard". His former club in Vancouver, however, released statements saying they knew Testo was gay while he played, clearly showing how much of a non-issue it was during his playing time there. More publicly still is the recent statement by former Columbus Crew and US National Team player Robbie Rogers confirming his identification as a gay man. After the statement was released many current MLS players produced a video in which they issued very encouraging and heartfelt statements of support and acceptance for the former Columbus soccer star.
Rogers is arguably the most well-known athlete to have ever come out and even though he has stepped away from soccer at such a young age, he remains a successful role model for LGBT youth in athletics. His influence and the positive work done by allies like Marc Burch establish solid framework for an accepting environment in the MLS.