“I don’t always get it right.”
Those were the words of Mike Petke two months ago, as he described his bursts of anger, bursts of passion, bursts of profanity, bursts of ugliness, bursts that stir somewhere inside him, from a place not even Petke himself understands. And then, they spill out, like raging water over and through a damaged and disintegrating dam.
And sometimes they hurt people.
On one occasion, after a disappointing Real Salt Lake loss on a bad call by an official last season, the coach fired off a string of aggression in an interview: “ … Fine me!” he said. “I don’t care anymore. So drain my bank account. I don’t give a sh-- anymore, OK?”
Major League Soccer did exactly that, taking away $10 grand and suspending him for two games.
“I get to a point where I can’t hold it in,” he later told me. “It just comes out. I’m not proud of that stuff; that’s just who I am.”
If it really is who he is, Petke needs to change.
He said after previous outbursts, his wife asks him: “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
Before, it was sort of amusing, in a cartoonish kind of way.
It is funny no more.
Not after what happened following an RSL loss to Tigres UANL on July 24 at Rio Tinto Stadium. On that night, Petke was upset, sent into a rage by officials who did not see things the way Petke saw them. And the coach lost his temper and his mind, not spewing just expletives, according to reports, rather barking mixed expletives and a term of hate, a homophobic slur at the lead ref, a slur in Spanish that will not be written here. One account reported that Petke, after the verbal onslaught, wrote down the slur on a piece of paper and had it delivered, again, to the official in his postgame dressing room.
Who does that?
What the hell’s wrong with you, Mike Petke?
Between MLS and RSL, the coach was fined $25,000, suspended for three games, banned from team activities for two weeks without pay, and will be banned in future Leagues Cup games.
Well. It’s high time for Petke to start caring, to start giving a sh--.
It’s one thing for a coach to express displeasure in an aggressive manner. It’s quite another to use harmful language that is meant to hurt people who don’t deserve to be hurt, and I’m not talking about the official.
Petke is smart enough to know this. But when knowing and doing don’t align, especially within someone in a position of such leadership and influence as the head coach of an MLS franchise, then stern correction is in order. Homophobic slurs? Those kinds of expressions need to be exorcised.
Petke has been ordered to undergo anger-management training, whatever that entails. Hopefully, it will be nobody’s idea of a smirk and a wave and a pass. Some things cannot be tolerated, and this is one of them. It’s not a matter of creeping political correctness. It’s a matter of avoiding and extinguishing hurtful word bombs that explode, still.
Thing is, Petke typically is a decent, responsible individual, one who has been a part of supporting LGBTQ causes in the past — which makes his choice of words here all the more damaging — who works hard, demanding excellence from his players and from himself. He doesn’t always get it, and there are questions emerging about his effectiveness with this group of RSL players, a group that many believe is underperforming. That’s a question for another day. I’ll admit, although I don’t know him well, most of what I do know of the man, I like.
I do not like this, and neither does Real Salt Lake.
In the aforementioned interview I had with Petke earlier this season for a lengthy profile tracing back through his life, a piece that chronicled the experiences that, in part, made him who he is, he talked in detail about his upbringing, about the intense effect his demanding father had on him.
“When he got mad,” Petke said, “my dad was the most intimidating, scary man I’ve ever been around.”
Doubtful it is that the 43-year-old coach, upon further review, would blame anyone other than himself for this latest mistake.
Either way, Petke must now see, stare down, his own reflection, measuring himself against a higher, better standard. In some cases, not just “holding it in,” but never thinking it in the first place. And demonstrating to all those he coaches and influences, players and fans alike, that he has learned a lesson, that in the near and far reaches of his mind and straight out of his mouth, respect has taken victory from ignorance.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.