Marc Burch of the Seattle Sounders used a gay slur against an opponent during a Major League Soccer game last fall. He was suspended three games by the league -- including two playoff games -- one of the first times a player was suspended in pro sports for homophobic language. Burch said the punishment was justified and necessary to send a message:
"I knew when the suspension was coming down that it needed to be harsh, because it's a harsh thing that I did," Burch said Tuesday, talking to reporters for the first time since the incident in Salt Lake City.
"I think [MLS Commissioner] Don Garber made the right decision. I wish it would have been the end of the season and I could have started this season new and fresh and try to get it off of people's minds, but three games is three games, and I'm ready to face it and start my season after it."
One of Burch's former teammates is Robbie Rogers, the now-retired player who came out as gay two weeks ago.
“I hope people didn’t think that that was just because of what happened last year,” said Burch. “I went to school with Robbie, and I love Robbie to death.
“I’m proud that he has been able to get this off his chest," Burch added. "Hopefully he can come back and play soccer now. That’s what we all want him to do.”
Burch, who has a sister who is a lesbian, said the MLS is ready for an openly gay player. His reaction after the slur has been stellar. He sincerely apologized, accepted his punishment and his actions since speak to his character as this anecdote shows:
With the help of the Sounders, Burch reached out to the local gay and lesbian soccer community, and in December he went to Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood to take part in a scrimmage with a gay soccer club. Neither Burch nor the Sounders alerted the media about it, there were no reporters or cameras. This wasn't a P.R. stunt, it was just a little bit of healing on a soccer field. The game probably would have gone unnoticed to everyone but those who played in it if not for a player on the team writing about it on The Stranger's website.
"Obviously, they knew of the incident, but it wasn't something that needed to be spoken about," Burch said. "They understood I wasn't coming out there to make myself look good, but I just wanted to let them know that (the incident in Salt Lake) wasn't who I am. When I went out there, I think everybody just appreciated the fact that I was out there to enjoy the game. Everybody had a good time."
We can add Marc Burch to the growing list of straight allies in sports and something good has come out of something bad.
Photo: Seattle Sounders FC defender Marc Burch warms up prior to a match last June. (Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)