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About Major League Soccer Players Union’s curious statement on ‘Ball Boy-gate’

May 15, 2013, 6:50 PM EDT

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 3.48.17 PM

Boy, did the Major League Soccer Players Union get this one wrong. Instead of coming out in defense of Mario De Luna, Eddie Pope and his staff should have just kept quiet and let Sunday’s backlash boil over. Instead, they may have reignited the small controversy. In the process, a lot of MLS fans will be left to wonder what the Union could have possibly been thinking by issuing a release about Ball Boy-gate.

That kind of skepticism (if not outright befuddlement) was the initial reaction after the union’s Wednesday statement became known, one in which the initial sentiment becomes entirely overwhelmed by the inanity of the greater purpose:

Physical contact between a player and a ball boy should never occur. Rather than focusing exclusively on player punishment, however, the league must eliminate ball boy antics, as the Players Union requested last year. There should be no place in our game for off-field personnel to attempt to impact play on the field.

The failure to address this problem substantially increases the risk of unfortunate incidents like we saw last weekend. The league and our teams must do their part to keep our stadiums safe. We urge the league once again to take action and hold teams accountable for the conduct of their ball boys.

[MORE: Another MLS ball boy incident, this time in Portland]

The MLSPU would be wise to amend the statement, deleting everything after “occur,” because while ball boy “antics” may be a relevant discussion at some point, now is not the time. The ball boy did nothing wrong on Sunday, and even if he did, there are various other ways to deal with the problem:

  • De Luna could have found another of the myriad of balls on the sideline, …
  • He could have appealed to the head official (at which time, he would have learned it was not Chivas USA’s ball) …
  • Said head official could have compensated for the antics by adding extra time to the game, or …
  • A 25-year-old adult could have recognized the bigger picture and not shoved a child half his size over a soccer ball.

The MLSPU is essentially an advocacy organization, and as such, they’re going to protect their members’ rights. When those rights (especially collectively bargained ones) are infringed upon, they act, particularly as it concerns issues in and around the workplace.

So one possible, hasty conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Union, as the players’ bargaining unit, feels physical action against recalcitrant field staff is an acceptable response for its members? Or, if we keep in mind the first sentence of the statement, a physical response – even when it’s against a minor doing no wrong – is something that’s entitled to some level of defense?

And you wonder why lawyers have a bad reputation.

This is an inexplicably narrow-minded statement, one that’s does no good but let one member of the organization’s bargaining unit know his rights are being respected. But again, what are those rights, exactly? And how are those rights impinging on others’, including the greater good of the league?

And the greater good of the Players Union. This kind of blanket defense of an obviously out-of-line player is repugnant. Worse: In issuing a public statement about this, Pope and the Union’s leadership have the default effect of speaking on behalf of the greater body at large. This becomes the union, as a multi-hundred-member group, mitigating De Luna’s behavior.

That’s unless others speak up. It will be interesting to see if anybody does. The issue of a defender drawing a one-game suspension might not be enough to motivate any principled stands, but it will be interesting to hear how players respond if asked about their union’s stance.

  1. lunasceiling - May 15, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    The Players Union statement might have had some merit if the ball kid had in fact been indulging in “antics,” if he’d been doing something wrong in not handing the ball to a player on the team that had just lost possession (according to the referee’s signal). But the kid got it right, and that statement is full of fail and stupid.

    • wfjackson3 - May 16, 2013 at 10:30 AM

      The kid is not an official. Their only responsibility is to shag balls and give them to players. They have no purview to be selective about who they give balls to.

      • lawduck - May 16, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        You are correct that the kid is not an official – which is why the rules state that the kid “gives the ball to players” according to the instructions of the head referee. Not because of a linesman’s flag, not because a player asks for the ball, and certainly not when an angry midfielder is throwing a tantrum on the sideline.

        I continue to be amazed at people’s ability to replace the wording of a rule with their assumption of what the rule says. That appears to include the MLSPU.

        And yes, I’m a Timbers fan but if this had happened anywhere I would be equally annoyed at the “blame the ball kid” reaction by fans and union alike.

      • chadmoon1 - May 17, 2013 at 11:47 AM

        Read the post from yesterday which gives the league’s own bylaws on the behavior of the ballboys. As per the league’s rule, the ballboy did exactly as he should have done. He looked at the referee, saw that the ball belonged to Portland, and when the almost out of work Chivas USA player came for it, he did not give it to him.

    • donjuego - May 18, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      Ballkids should not be deciding who to give the ball too, or who the referee wants it givin to. Ball kid should fork the ball over to whomever asks for it. Period.

      The union is asking for the rule to be changed so that kids don’t make decisions. The Union is right.

  2. billobrienschindimple - May 15, 2013 at 7:26 PM

    Might I suggest not capitalizing union when it stands by itself. If this were any other league it would not matter. But since MLS has a team named union it could be confusing to a casual reader who clicks on this story.

  3. seanb20124 - May 15, 2013 at 8:18 PM

    A unions job is to defend its dues paying members.

    • joeyt360 - May 15, 2013 at 11:04 PM

      Which would make our job to call out the inevitable BS.

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