Beckham's suspension not enough
As is so often the case with the MLS Disciplinary Committee, even when it does the right thing, there's a feeling of dissatisfaction that it could have done more.
On Thursday MLS announced that it had suspended Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham for one game and fined an undisclosed sum for his actions at the end of last Saturday's 4-3 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes. For the uninitiated, Beckham kicked not one, but two balls in the direction of referee Hilario Grajeda and San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin. Grajeda was standing over Cronin in an attempt to ascertain if the San Jose midfielder was injured after taking a foot to the head. Beckham, frustrated at what he perceived was timewasting by San Jose, succeeded in striking both player and referee with his second attempt, drawing a yellow card from Grajeda.
That Beckham deserved additional sanction from the league isn't even a question. In fact, he should have been red-carded for violent conduct as well as for striking the referee with the ball. Yet the fact that the Disciplinary Committee acted at all is more than a tad surprising. We're talking about a player for whom verbal disparaging of referees, be it during the game or after, has been a near-weekly occurrence, and yet he had somehow managed to escape punishment. The Disciplinary Committee's action is to be commended, even if it was long overdue.
But then that prickly issue of fairness comes in. How are Beckham's actions demonstrably different from those of FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea on May 12 against Columbus? In that match, Shea intentionally kicked a ball into the midsection of an assistant referee. Shea was given a three-game vacation for his troubles. And what of those of Los Angeles teammate Mike Magee, who was suspended for a game for throwing the ball at -- and missing -- referee Silviu Petrescu in a match against Houston on May 26?
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In relation to the Shea incident, MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Game Operations Nelson Rodriguez explained the difference this way:
"Brek Shea pointedly kicked the ball at, and hit, an official with the ball," said Rodriguez. "Which by definition, is referee abuse and by definition is a minimum of three games.
"Beckham was cautioned by the official for kicking the ball, and he viewed it as aiming the ball at an opponent," continued Rodriguez, who oversees the committee but does not have a vote in it. "That caution put him over his yellow card accumulation threshold, which automatically caused him to be suspended for one game. What the Disciplinary Committee sanctioned him for was general confrontational behavior during and after the game."
Rodriguez alluded to the way Beckham confronted San Jose midfielder Rafael Baca, and made threatening gestures to other Earthquakes players during the incident and after the game.
"We viewed [Beckham's] entire behavior as inappropriate and unprofessional and detrimental to the image of the league," said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez then confirmed that the committee didn't view Beckham's action as deliberately kicking the ball at the referee.
"Not exactly, no. You can never read [the] intent of [a] player," he said. "In looking at different video, it would actually appear that he might have been kicking the ball at Baca, not even at Cronin. You can't say for certain. The referee did not believe he was the subject of the kicked ball."
But reading intent is precisely what the committee did in the case of Shea. And given Beckham's track record of behavior toward game officials -- his behavior in the aftermath of the Magee incident is just one example -- the committee could have taken a stronger stance by tacking on at least another game. The league cannot in any way allow what Beckham did as it relates to Grajeda to be treated lightly, even if his intent is in their eyes, unclear.
Will the suspension spark a change in Beckham's behavior? Unlikely. Beckham has been allowed to behave as he likes for far too long. But at minimum, the committee's action is a step in the right direction, even if it didn't go far enough.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.