Alan Gordon wants you to know that he a compassionate man. He wants you to know that he is a fighter that always looks for the best from himself and the people around him. On the field, he plays with a passion to perform as his best, especially for the kids that look at him as a role model. When not in the public eye, he is simply a family man, enjoying time with his two small children, gracious for the opportunity that soccer has given him in life.
So when the San Jose Earthquakes forward hurled a homophobic slur toward Will Johnson of the Portland Timbers during last Sunday’s match, with a packed stadium and a national television audience watching, Gordon immediately realized the gravity of the moment. The wry smirk was quickly replaced by the resigned look on his face, foretelling what he would later admit.
“I was frustrated about how the game was going,” said Gordon. “I was frustrated and we were exchanging some words and I said the wrong thing. I made a mistake. It came from somewhere that I didn’t know was in me. I don’t use that language. And it came out and it was the worst possible timing on a big stage.”
Two days after the incident, Gordon was reprimanded by MLS Commissioner Don Garber for “using unacceptable and offensive language towards an opponent” and levied with a three game suspension. Because later in the match he earned a second yellow card and was ejected, Gordon also received an automatic one match suspension that brings the total penalty to four games. He will not be eligible to return to the line-up until an away game at the Seattle Sounders on May 11.
“That’s extremely tough. I’ve battled hard to get back,” said Gordon, who was making only his third appearance of 2013 following offseason surgery to remove a nerve from his foot. “I’ve worked very hard. This is a big mental mistake, a mental error that I made. I’m going to have to show a lot of character in how I come back and deal with this moving forward.”
The hurtful language, coming as it did from the Earthquakes locker room spiritual torchbearer, was surprising to all that know Gordon well, especially to his teammates on the Earthquakes. After all, the long-haired ringleader of the 2102 Supporters’ Shield winning “Goonies” defined locker room fun and the swell of condemnation his words provoked in Portland seem to have the potential to wreck havoc on the chemistry that defines the team.
“One thing is for sure in our locker room: We know Alan, we know his character, and that was not him,” shared team MVP and good friend Chris Wondolowski. “Our locker room does not tolerate it and he knows that. It was unfortunate that it happened, but we know that is not Alan.”
The man in charge of the team, head coach Frank Yallop, was instrumental in bringing the MLS journeyman — the forward has played for 5 teams in his 10 year professional career — to San Jose as part of a multi-player trade with Toronto FC in the summer of 2011. Gordon made only two appearances that year, but he returned in 2012 to post the best statistical season of his career. Yallop showed faith in Gordon in bringing him to the Earthquakes and he expressed that same sentiment in expressing how he expects Gordon to move beyond the hurtful language said in Portland.
“Alan’s a great guy and it was a big mistake he made on Sunday,” said Yallop. “He regrets it, and we’ll move forward. We can’t have stuff going on like that at our club. I think it is completely isolated, completely singular. I have never heard anyone on our team say that in our locker room or on the field ever. It won’t happen again.”
Within a day of MLS announcing the three game suspension to Gordon, and stated that as part of his rehabilitation he would need to seek out sensitivity training, the Earthquakes organization announced that it had enlisted the You Can Play Project to provide insights into the issues facing gay and lesbian athletes in sports. The collaboration meant to serve more than just Gordon, as all the players on the team are expected to be part of the discussion.
“We are excited for the opportunity to address the San Jose Earthquakes locker room,” said You Can Play President Patrick Burke. “David Testo will accompany me to share his experiences as a gay soccer player. We believe our work will help educate the players on issues that are often not familiar to athletes.”
“What we are trying to do is take this opportunity to create a learning moment for not only the club but for the community,” said club president Dave Kaval. “And with Alan’s willingness to be open about it and be involved it can be that. Hopefully that is a way to make a positive out of this situation and create a learning moment.”
Kaval added that he felt the organization already was doing a great job of promoting “equality, openness, and transparency” in the community and he expected that Gordon and the club would find additional ways to reach out to those that had been hurt by the incident in Portland. The player himself pledged to make amends for actions and to quickly assuage the public he was not in any way and ignorant jock.
“I’m going to use this for good,” shared Gordon, “that’s what I’ve decided to do. People that know me know what kind of person I am. I’m discussing a lot of different options to get out into the community and show people who I really am and I will do several things to let people know that it was a mistake.”
Whether or not the public believes Gordon is genuine in his apology and plans to participate in educating the community seems almost inconsequential to him, but coming from someone who has always had to fight to move forward in life, Gordon knows it will ultimately be on his actions that he is judged and not on his words.
“It’s not going to be tough,” said Gordon. “If this is the only thing they focus on, then they are going to believe what they believe. But if they really want to know who I am, then stay tuned. This is not the end of it; the story just doesn’t stop. This is not the person I am. If you really want to know the person I am then come see me on a personal level, come talk to me, and I think you will be reassured who I am.”
Wondolowski often uses the word “love” to express the chief feeling the players share with one another, and like any relationship with such emotion, the uncomfortable situation Gordon has put himself into will be dealt quickly and convincingly by those in the Earthquakes inner circle.
“We’ve talked about it and everybody understands that it is not tolerable,” said Wondolowski, who also serves as an Earthquakes representative to MLS’s Don’t Cross the Line program denouncing derogatory and discriminatory behavior of all kinds. “It sucks that it happened, but we’ll still love him as a teammate and a person.”
“He’ll move forward from this,” added Yallop. “He made a mistake in what he said. He’s fully owned up to it and he’s not that type of person at all. I know Alan very well, and he’s a terrific guy and will learn from it.”
Gordon, who could have easily been ostracized by his coaches and teammates, expressed how important it was for him that they confronted rather than ignored the incident and then comforted him in the following hours and days.
“They’re the one that are keeping me going,” said Gordon, “the people I love and who love me and know who I really am. My teammates and the coaching staff and John Doyle have been extremely supportive of me. They know who I am and if you’ve had any interaction with me whatsoever I think that you can get a good sense of the person I am and I’m not trying to belittle anybody regardless of what your beliefs or your way of life is. It’s just not me. I accept everybody and it doesn’t matter who you are, so they know that. They’re keeping me going. They’re keeping my head up.”
Keeping him going will also be important as Gordon sits out the next month serving his suspension, a suspension teammates Wondolowski described as “a fair punishment.” But Gordon is a man that does not know the meaning of the word “quit,” and he will no doubt, during his time away from the game, work as much off the field to assure those that might question his character. Gordon will not let the moment to turn bad into good pass by or be ignored.
“This is what is going to define me, is how I move forward from this,” said Gordon. “This is what shows a person of character, in tough moments. It’s easy to be a nice guy when things are going good and everybody loves you. But I am looking forward to this challenge of showing people who I really am, so if they want to know, they’ll see.”