Tim Howard issues apology, but he shouldn’t have had to

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Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard remained mum on his MLS suspension and the events leading up to it, until now. On his Facebook page on Friday, Howard finally addressed the situation that left the Rapids without their star keeper for three games, and while he took responsibility, he also highlighted some glaring security issues that are unique to the MLS.

I want to begin by saying I am genuinely sorry for my behavior in Kansas City and I want to apologize to my fans. I let…

Posted by Tim Howard on Friday, April 21, 2017

Athletes from across the professional ranks are expected to control themselves when confronted by aggressive fans. Whether this is fair or not is still up for debate, and Howard detailed interesting perspectives from the athlete’s point of view.

One thing that must be examined is the approach by the MLS. The MLS is still an up-and-coming league in the U.S. Because of this, the MLS does a variety of different things to try to draw fans to their venues and take in a professional soccer game. One of those things is to position fans in a way that they can get up close and personal with players.

This kind of approach is great for the fans, but put yourself in the shoes of an athlete. While you’re attempting to do your job, belligerently drunk fans constantly hurl verbal vitriol in your direction, which is to be expected at sporting events. What’s not to be expected, nor should be tolerated, are personal attacks on the player’s personal life or family members. What’s more is that fans should never be able to get face-to-face with player unless it’s in an autograph line.

From what’s been reported by the MLS and Howard himself, there was an area in the tunnel in which fans freely mingled among players trying to get to the locker room. This is the perfect area for a drunkard to confront the opposing player that they’ve been verbally abusing all game for one last jab. To ask a player to be even-keeled and calm in the tunnel after a road loss and verbal berating by fans is asinine. Emotions run high at sporting events, and none are higher than those of the athletes’ themselves.

This is why the NFL puts so much space between the sidelines and the stands. This is why the NBA doesn’t allow fans near the tunnel or the floor when the players are heading to the locker rooms. This is why the MLB has a cover over the dugout: so there’s a limit to the amount that fans can irritate players. So, since the MLS is attempting to build a stronger brand, the athletes need to endure unreasonable treatment by fans. That doesn’t seem too fair.

I ask you to put yourself in the position of these players. Imagine that at your job there are people getting drunk, watching you work and attempting to throw you off through insults and childish behavior. Imagine these people did research on your personal life and know about the personal struggles you deal with with your family friends and use those struggles as ammunition. It would be difficult not to lash out at some point, wouldn’t it?

Then there comes the financial argument.

“I paid for this ticket, so I’m going to enjoy myself and do what I like.”

Well, if you can’t behave yourself like a reasonable human being, go spend your money elsewhere. Being a fan, like many other areas in life, entails a certain level of responsibility. The ticket is not some magical token that grants the holder no consequences for actions; it’s a pass to watch athletes compete at level that the average person could only dream of.

Also, MLS players don’t make as much money as you might think. Yes, Howard is paid a lot, but players like 2016 MLS Defender of the Year nominee Axel Sjöberg make less than $70,000 a year, hardly the amount we think of when we think of a professional athlete. Should we really expect these players to put up with the kind of abuse they do for that amount of money?

So before jumping to loud conclusions, actually put yourself in Howard’s shoes. Yes, he responded to fan behavior in a way that he probably shouldn’t have, and he apologized. Yet, his behavior is understandable. Athletes are people just like the drunk fan in section 125, so why hold them to a higher standards than we hold ourselves? Howard has been nothing but a sterling role model for young soccer players and fans for more than 20 years, and now we’re outraged because he had one human reaction. So, before we put all of the blame on the hard working, reputable athlete, let’s at least consider the actions of the irresponsible drunkard and the MLS, who enables him/her.

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