Mike Petke is no longer head coach of Salt Lake City, Utah’s Real Salt Lake MLS soccer team. On Wednesday, team owner Dell Loy Hansen told fans he was considering firing him, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, and the writing was on the wall.
That’s because of the writing that was on a sign Petke used to confront referees on July 24, in the tunnel to the locker room, after his team lost the Leagues Cup match to the Tigres UANL.
The Tribune reported a homophobic slur was scrawled on the sign, in Spanish, and the paper said it was the same slur he had hurled at the refs on the field. He received a red card.
As our SB Nation partner site RSL Soap Box reported the obscenities included “the Spanish word puto, which often carries with it homophobic connotation. No confirmation has been provided of those accusations.”
Petke received three suspensions: the team sidelined him for two weeks without pay, MLS and Leagues Cup each issued three game suspensions, and the league fined him $25,000 as well. The team noted on its website those were “the steepest sanctions ever levied against an MLS coach.”
On Sunday, the day those suspensions were scheduled to end, RSL terminated Petke’s contract and named his assistant coach, Freddy Juarez, interim coach for the remainder of the 2019 season.
“After further deliberations and a series of constructive discussions internally and with various members of our community,” said the club in a statement, “we have concluded, pursuant to his employment agreement, to immediately terminate Mike Petke’s employment.”
Petke has not commented publicly.
In a tweet, Equality Utah praised the team for making a “positive statement — with both words and deeds — that neither homophobia or racism is acceptable in Utah.”
RSL fans on the Tribune newspaper site also uniformly praised the team’s decision. Many fans of Petke, however, expressed anger on Twitter, some defending his words as acceptable because he’s “a homegrown New Yorker” — he considers both Long Island and New Jersey his home, incidentally. Others explained the slurs are used frequently by fans in other nations, as if that makes them okay. Still others attacked self-identified LGBTQ followers when they tweeted in support of his firing.
Thanks for taking the concerns of those in the queer community seriously. Even if you’re a couple of weeks late. Mike Petke has no right to represent us after his antics. ❤️— Wirtjo Leonard (@Wirtjogets2yell) August 12, 2019
For those who cannot understand or appreciate why Petke was fired, the team statement explained it best:
“We hold all of our coaches, players, executives and staff to the highest standards of professionalism. As an organization, it is vital that everyone, particularly our leadership, reflects and embodies our core values and the values of our community, treating all people with respect, civility and professionalism. Moreover, throughout our 15-year history, we have championed diversity, acceptance and inclusion throughout our organization, our stadiums and our community. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously.”
The Tribune noted that although Petke took the RSL to the playoffs in 2018, the team has not lost a game In Petke’s absence. RSL had comeback wins against Sporting Kansas City and New York City FC, and drew against FC Dallas. Juarez managed the team for all three games, and will for the rest of the season.
From our perspective, the apparently unprecedented step of firing a coach for using a homophobic slur that has not been effectively curtailed by the organizers of this sport is a welcome move, a necessary step, and not the final one. It should be a warning shot to everyone that no matter what the excuse, no matter how anyone chooses to interpret a slur, there will be consequences.