Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Amidst Controversy MLS Pulls Latest Episode of ExtraTime Radio

Major League Soccer's mainstay podcast ExtraTime Radio is receiving quite a bit of attention lately courtesy of Editorial Staff and podcast member Simon Borg. Borg is often one to bring viewpoints to the show that can be characterized as unpopular, however his latest comments stirred a particularly vocal crowd: women.

Monday's edition of the podcast has been removed after an explosion of tweets and attention took note and offense to Borg's comments. During the conversation of panelists, including Greg Lalas, Andrew Wiebe, Nick Firchau and Borg, they were winding down and responding to emails when the topic of dating came up. Strange as it may seem, it was actually in good fun. The ETR members were discussing dating and soccer. It was then that Borg's controversial comments came.

"It's going to be a little unpopular to say this..." Simon said as he began. "It's fine if you're a female and you want to be a super-fan. Clearly go for it, that's your choice. But there is something to be said for how appealing that might be to the other sex. Having a woman that's such a fan, like painting your face, tuning in to every podcast... I don't know how many males would be into that."

He continues "It's great that in Kansas City there are a lot of women in the stands, it's great. But for the guy who wants maybe a serious relationship...I don't know it comes to a point that it is a bit of a turn off..."

It is worth noting that the conversation seemed casual and was the other panelists did not seem to agree. At one point Greg Lalas cut him off and pointed out that "What you're saying is that it's a turn off for you," to which Borg openly agreed.

The podcast was posted Monday and its listeners took to the interwebs. Once this happened, twitter began to spread the word of Borg's comments and it struck a cord with the female demographic. Consider this demographic well represented.

Recently, a group of female soccer fans took the bold initiative to create their own digital space in which they could mingle and talk amongst themselves about being female fans of the game. The site launched only several months ago and has already received an enormous amount of attention and praise (rightfully so). Women United FC has created a place in which female fans of Major League Soccer can share their love for the game and grow their initiative. It was in particular members of this community that were offended. If ever there were female "die-hard" fans of the game, surely they at the very least identify with Women United.

Their members, community and those in support of their cause vocalized their opinions in the form of tweets, articles and messages. Some attacked Borg, some called for calm and some simply blew it off. However, Women United's Kristi Colvin (WUFC's most followed via Twitter) was extremely upset over the comments. She and many of the community made enough noise on the subject that ExtraTime Radio reached out and now WUFC will be guests on the show.

When asked for a statement on Borg's comments, WUFC's Sayra Moran responded with:

"To Women United FC, this is not an issue about feminism, women's rights, etc... This is about soccer and the league that we so dearly support. As an MLSSoccer.com senior editor and analyst on ExtraTime Radio, he is entitled to share his opinion. However, despite the context of the conversation, we feel his words alienated MLS' growing ranks of female fans and were unbecoming of a league representative."

Moran's comments quell any concerns that this is a feminist outcry or picking a fight for fight's sake. In fact it removes that from the equation entirely. WUFC and Moran were offended by the idea that they, as a loyal demographic and followers of the league, were generalized and alienated. They represent a growing group of Major League Soccer's fan base. Anytime the fan base can be grown or expanded, regardless of demographic, is a good thing. Cultivating the female fans, regardless of their intensity or passion is important to the league.

Major League Soccer's decision to pull the episode though was a mistake. While the comments may be considered offensive, they do spark conversation and that conversation is a good thing. It's often been my feeling that conversations about soccer help grow the game in this country. Now though, many will have missed out on the conversation's context, vocal inflections and interpretations by the other editors. Still, the various viewpoints and discussions brought to light by this event have and will lead to many being educated on the topic. It could be that some were not aware of WUFC, unaware of the growing amount of female fans, or some may not have even considered the topic at all.

Kayla Knapp (left) with friend Ryanne Miller celebrating signed Galaxy shirts. Knapp is a founding member of  WUFC.

Iconoclasts exist to raise issue, force discussion and bring viewpoints to the forefront of media. Where would soccer be without them? Guys like Eric Wynalda for instance have often said things that outraged fans, but those fans brought their voices to others and that helps grow the game. When the ladies of Women United FC lend their voices to ExtraTime Radio on Thursday, they'll be bringing their perspectives to those who might not have heard it. That will help grow the game. More importantly it will help educate those within the Major League Soccer fan base who are in need of a refresher in modern culture.

My hope is that we all learn from Borg's comments and the response to it, myself included. Take this article for instance: Alicia Ratterree pointed out several things that I myself had not considered. It's worthy of a read.

Bottom line, we all make mistakes, but it's best to learn from them. MLS, MLS Digital and the employees of the league are all learning how to create a product that all want to see and be a part of. This is one of those steps that is necessary, but maybe didn't have to be so painful.

[UPDATE: The episode of ExtraTime has been reposted, edited and includes an apology.]

5 comments:

  1. Not surprised they pulled the episode. MLS is scared of anything even slightly controversial. Its' one reason i don't listen to ETR anymore. They avoid real controversial subjects all the time (like the racial doublestandard when it comes to diving, the unbalanced schedule, slum owners, etc.) and only toe the company line. ETR is little more than a commercial for MLS and isn't worth listening to by anyone who's serious about football or the league.

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    1. I disagree wholeheartedly. I think there are some other great podcasts out there, but for great interviews and for recaps of the weekends games ETR is a great show. It's well produced, the guys on it are well spoken and confident and they all have the knowledge it takes to have good conversation.

      Sure - they aren't going to openly criticize things like the disciplinary committee, but go to another podcast for that. I have yet to find a podcast that scratches every itch for me and thats okay.

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  2. I got a chance to listen to the podcast before it was taken down. I've always had a hard time knowing when Simon is being funny. To me, it sounded like everyone else was having a good time and then Simon came in with his controversial opinions, acting completely serious. Earlier in the same episode, he ribbed the other married guys on the show for being told by their wives when to go to bed. He something along the lines of "If I want to watch soccer, I'm going to watch soccer. Doesn't matter what my wife tells me."

    MLSsoccer.com just released a new version of the podcast that edits out Simon's comments.

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  3. I would like to ask all that have complained of the content and personal opinion of Simon Borg one question. Do you watch and laugh at the HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Why be selective, let's go after them all. How about that guy in the stands in subzero temps half naked with his fattiness hanging out everywhere wearing a Cheese Head. How many that have complained about Simon Borg exclaimed, "Look at that fat ass". Yeah I thought so.
    Charles Cherry

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