Double standards Part 1. The war on Landon Donovan


Landon Donovan drew fire for declaring his World Cup support for Mexico
Photo: Jonny Rico

Double standards Part 1. The war on Landon Donovan

By Steve Clare, founder and ex-editor, Prost Amerika

Everything in soccer appears through a different filter in the aftermath of a World Cup. It has been especially unusual this year in the USA, as for anyone below a certain age, it was the first World Cup without any USMNT performances to cheer on and mull over.

Additionally, the aftermath of a highly contentious election for US Soccer President has left those dissatisfied with the way things have been run bolder and more organised, and in Eric Wynalda, finally with a credible voice and leader.

I am happy that Eric is continuing to speak out candidly on issues where I agree and just as happy where I do not. He and others like Kyle Martino are needed to breach the trust gap between those with access to large media platforms and those without. To some extent this is true of other reform minded people like  Peter Wilt, Paul Caligiuri and Paul Lapointe.

These developments have led to some unusual and perhaps undiscovered territory being explored. And sadly led to some double-standards being uncovered. I don’t write many editorials these days as they normally get me into trouble with the establishment. I suspect this one, and the two further articles, on the “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign and San Diego’s MLS bid will be no different.

Landon Donovan was paid money to advertise a bank – an American Bank and let’s be honest, the names don’t come more American than that bank. (For $350, I will insert their actual name in this article!)

The bank’s campaign was aimed at attracting Mexican-Americans as customers and Landon was asked to say that would be cheering for Mexico in the World Cup. Now I have no problem with Landon or anyone saying he would be cheering for Mexico. As a Scotsman, I wouldn’t support England for all the money in the world but I would certainly be happy to say I was!

Donovan however is genuinely  partial to the Mexican people and culture having learned his soccer around them in California. He saw nothing risky in lending his support publicly. He was probably supporting them anyway. Additionally, he perhaps felt that given the toxic political environment where one political party is collecting votes by disparaging Mexican people, he may have at least subliminally thought he was doing his part to distance himself from that racism. Again this would be consistent with Donovan’s political leanings.

Lastly and aside from politics, he may have felt that the better CONCACAF teams did in Russia, the better it would be for the USMNT. This is certainly true in terms of accruing more CONCACAF qualifying places as the World Cup gears up to 48 sides. Had he stated that point alone before getting into spats about rivalries and loyalties, it might have ended the debate around the ad quicker, or at least moved it on to safer territory.

He was probably proven right on this narrow latter point when critics used Panama’s woeful displays as an excuse to attack the USMNT. How many “how did we get eliminated by that team” pieces and tweets did you see in the aftermath of their 6-1 thumping by Athletico Set Piece? Poor performances by our fellow CONCACAF sides does the USMNT no good. There is simply no advantage to it.

“As a Scot I wouldn’t support England for all the money in the world but I would certainly be happy to say I was.”

However it is possible to both sympathise and condemn a legendary US International for taking money to announce his support for Mexico. There were are reasoned arguments on both sides. There is probably no player in MLS whose intellect and professionalism I have more respect for than Brad Evans, but he disagreed with my viewpoint. He didn’t lose that respect for having a different viewpoint.

I do not criticise those who disagreed with Donovan nor do I wish to paint them into any corner or attribute any negative motives to them merely for that criticism. Some of Donovan’s defensive tweets did stray into territory I though was unwise. To his credit, he admitted that a day later.

However there are some people (or perhaps more accurately SUM people) who really had no moral right to take a public pop at him for his so-called betrayal. This article is about the double-standard rather than the opinion, which can have reasonable grounds.

First and foremost amongst them is Carlos Bocanegra. Religious hatred is very rare in football. Yes, Ajax and Tottenham fans have embraced a Jewish identity and have been on the end of some rather disgusting chants because of it. But the whole concept of a club that would discriminate against Catholics seems weirder outside the narrow confines of Northern Ireland and Glasgow.

None of that stopped Bocanegra donning the jersey of Glasgow Rangers, a club who had a policy of not signing Roman Catholics for over 100 years until former Portland boss John Spencer accidentally slipped through the religious purity net, and more deliberately once former Kansas star Maurice Jonhston ended the policy for good.

Still their fans continued, and continue to this day, to sing anti-Catholic songs, make references to the Pope and repeat many of the Orange anti-Catholic ditties from Ulster’s tribal divide. Last year, they were filmed singing “We Hate Roman Catholics” to the tune of Tiffany’s “I think we’re alone now” in a Glasgow bar before a match with Partick Thistle. Other videos of the same song being sung are doing the rounds and received press attention.

Bocanegra knew the club’s past and present and carried on playing while the songs were being sung. Donovan was mistaken to get into a scrap on Hispanic identity with him on twitter, but one guy in that scrap was foolish. The other was hoping Donovan didn’t know about his past employer or was too polite to point it out.

Carlos Bocanegra is not alone though in being wrong to slam Donovan for making money out of El Tri.

MLS funds itself partly from the money Soccer United Marketing (SUM) makes out of its contract to put on Mexico international friendlies in the USA. SUM is the marketing win of MLS. That money in turn pays player wages. So if you played for an MLS club, you have indirectly benefited from the proceeds of those games.

While MLS through its marketing wing SUM continues to monetise itself through the Mexican national side, no-one who receives their salary from that fund is squeaky clean unless they have questioned, as many fans have, why the USA’s main soccer league is promoting its closest rival’s national side. Surely Landon Donovan cannot be the only American not allowed to make money out of El Tri?

To be fair to the players, it’s unreasonable to expect them to publicly criticise the league that writes their paychecks. But given that they do, was it wise to so publicly pile into Donovan?

Away from Donovan, those Mexican friendlies raise another issue of double standards. And this one is perhaps more serious than everyone giving Donovan a hard time.

The ‘puto’ chant continues to be a feature of El Tri matches in the USA. If it happened as regularly at an MLS stadium, the league would be first to condemn and threaten its own fans under the “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign.

As we will see in the second piece, that is not the only place where the league is selective about who may and may not cross the line without sanction.


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  1. Respectfully disagree. And “no true Scotsman” would ever even say he’d support England! I look forward to the article pointing out the hypocrisy in the “don’t cross the line” campaign. That one has driven me mad for years and I felt like I was the only one pointing it out.

  2. If the money offered was big enough, just ask John Gorman or Alistair Darling! Who are we kidding?

    I think you’ll find you are less alone than you think on the DCtL.