One of the most sacred rules in sports is that players must never, under any circumstances, willfully do anything that puts the people who pay to watch the games at risk.
After the infamous “Malice in the Palace” in the NBA, in which Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) of the Indiana Pacers attacked a Detroit fan at the Pistons’ Palace at Auburn Hills, Artest was suspended for the rest of the season (73 regular-season and 13 playoff games), Stephen Jackson got 30 games for his involvement and the Pacers team was dismantled after the season was over.
In baseball, there’s the infamous case of Vince Coleman, who threw an M-100 explosive packed with enough gunpowder for seven Civil War rifle rounds into a crowd in the parking lot and was thrown off the New York Mets’ “Worst Team Money Could Buy” in 1993.
And now in soccer, there’s the case of Kaku of the New York Red Bulls, who as is custom in his native Brazil for soccer players, goes by one name — his full name is Alejandro Romero Gamarra — and his red card for drilling a fan with a soccer ball.
It is one thing to throw or kick a ball into the stands; this in itself is not unusual in sports, nor in most cases does it do any harm, as players throw or kick the ball into the upper deck well away from the field.
Kaku kicked the ball into the front row, not much farther than a shot on goal.
A fan of the opposing Sporting Kansas City took the ball right in the face, arguably doing a better job of stopping the shot than the Sporting keeper in the 2-2 draw.
Kaku was given a red card in extra time after intentionally kicking the ball into the stands at close range and hitting a fan. pic.twitter.com/QxjmBz5fV8
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 15, 2019
All Kaku needed to do was control his temper for one more minute of extra time and everyone could’ve walked off the field, taken the point in the standings and had orange slices.
Instead, Kaku was swarmed by Kansas City players as a scrum broke out, thankfully with no punches being thrown or fans and players getting into any altercations.
When the referee arrived, he showed Kaku a red card as ESPN announcers referred to the incident as “a disgrace.”
After the game, Kaku said, “I want to take the time and apologize for my actions during tonight’s match. As a competitor, I was frustrated with myself and took out my frustrations in a way that is not acceptable. I love this game and would never want to disrespect it.”
I want to take the time and apologize for my actions during tonight’s match. As a competitor, I was frustrated with myself and took out my frustrations in a way that is not acceptable. I love this game and would never want to disrespect it. pic.twitter.com/0f1ufcXyJ4
— kaku (@kakuromero17) April 15, 2019
Kaku’s teammate, Daniel Royer, said he believed Kaku was trying to kick the ball into the running boards along the edge of the boundary but got under the ball and hit the fan instead — the moral of the story being it probably isn’t a good idea to slam anything in frustration where someone might get hurt.
After the scrum, yellow cards were also issued to Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles and Sporting forward Krisztian Nemeth.
Robles, speaking of Kaku, said, “I know that he’s remorseful about it. I know that he didn’t mean to do it. We all checked in with the guy. I guess that’s the price you pay when you sit in the front row, right?”
Luis Robles on Kaku: “I know that he’s remorseful about it. I know that he didn’t mean to do it. We all checked in with the guy. I guess that’s the price you pay when you sit in the front row, right?”
— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) April 15, 2019
There is, however, a big difference between fans sitting close to the action in a sport where the ball frequently enters the stands such as soccer or baseball paying attention, and fans having to brace themselves when the play is blown dead and a player throws a temper tantrum.
There is also the question of how MLS and the Red Bulls club will handle discipline for Kaku after this incident.
A fine seems definite. A suspension beyond the automatic one game that comes with every red card seems likely.
But will MLS Commissioner Don Garber go further and make the kind of bold statement that David Stern did when he suspended Artest for the rest of the season, or the Mets did when they kicked Coleman off the team?
The sanctity of fan safety at games just became Major League Soccer’s problem, and the league’s response will say a lot about the future of the MSL’s fan- and family-friendly image.
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