Way back in 2012, about a month after Seattle Sounder Marc Burch apologized for using "a gay slur" in a televised match, the gay soccer club I play with received a request: Could Marc participate in our Sunday scrimmage?
This is a large gay soccer club. So, of course, not every homo in it thought this was a great idea. Some wondered: Why should we do Marc's gay-washing for him?
But the decision was made to invite Marc to play with us, and if you ask me it was the right decision. He wasn't coming to apologize (again). He wasn't bringing TV cameras. He didn't want to give us soccer tips, or tell us about his gay friends, or any of that. He just wanted to play.
Which seemed right, at least to me. Actions, not words. Leave the rest in the past and work it out on the pitch.
When Marc came by one Sunday in December, way more soccer-playing homos than usual showed up. That was good to see. And while none of us are MLS-level athletes, we held our own with Marc.
He got the ball taken from him a few times. His team got scored on quite a few times. He got jostled and bumped into. At half-time, when our scrimmage leader announced that two of the guys who'd shown up were headed down to City Hall so they could be among the first gay couples to get legally married in this state, Marc applauded along with the rest of us.
That was another good thing to see. And I meant to blog about it all then, but in the chaos of covering the gay marriage history that was being made in Washington State that week it got lost. And then put on the back burner. And now here we are in 2013.
But it's worth coming back to that day, and the word Marc used in that Sounders game back in November of 2012. I'm told it was "faggot."
It's worth coming back to because this kind of stupid stuff still happens. It happens on Azealia Banks's Twitter feed, it happens in the late-night pizza line in Ohio, and (of course) it happens when someone hands Charlie Sheen a mic.
It also continues to happen on the soccer pitch. Our club fields a number of gay teams in various city leagues, and even in homo-tolerant Seattle our club's players still hear "faggot" pretty regularly during games. I hear it, though a lot less often than I used to.
Sometimes, when the guy saying "faggot" gets told he's dealing with a whole team of faggots, he'll immediately apologize and say he didn't realize. It's not a lie—there are plenty of guys (and in my experience they're always guys, never female players) who will fail to realize they're playing a gay soccer team, will use "faggot" as an on-field insult just because they've heard that's how it's done, and then will feel immediately and sincerely ashamed, and tell us so.
Which is why it's important for guys like Marc to point out that whatever the reason, all of this just amounts to dumb, playing-time-wasting behavior. (And why it's worth blogging about it—even belatedly, sorry—when guys like Marc make efforts to do so.) We all have better things to do than process more on-field apologies.
It's also important because not every guy who calls out "faggot" at one of our players is making a mistake that he knows to feel ashamed about. And then things get tense in our city league games. Then the problems of the world take root on the pitch and transform it. Then it stops being about the enjoyment of the game. Then it becomes something else.