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Dante Vanzeir's Suspension is Over, What Should Be Next

photo by Matt Kremkau

by Daniel Feuerstein

The six matches have come and gone for Dante Vanzeir as his suspension for the use of a racial word has been officially served. Since that night of chaos on April 8th against the San Jose Earthquakes, many things went wrong, that led to a crazy situation going over the top. But in the end, justice was or wasn't done depending on who thought the suspension should have been longer than just six games.

The South Ward walked out in protest the next match, they returned to see the final match of the Gerhard Struber era in a one-goal loss against the Philadelphia Union. Now Vanzeir is eligible to return to the club. The Red Bulls released a statement to the supporters on their website to inform the situation that happened within the club.

"In the days following our match with San Jose, after careful review and support from Major League Soccer and leaders in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space, the club appointed a reputable firm to help introduce a restorative process to all facets of the organization.

Dante Vanzeir began a comprehensive program, including emotional accountability, restorative practice and cultural sensitivity sessions in mid-April with the outside firm. He continues to have sessions now and moving forward.

We have held restorative process sessions with our players, sporting and front office staff, Academy players and their parents or guardians.

Vanzeir met with the team as he re-entered training and was unanimously approved to be able to return to the team in an anonymous player vote.

During the pre-match Zoom meeting from the Red Bulls training facility Interim Head Coach Troy Lesesne met with the media and conveyed his thoughts on the situation involving Dante Vanzeir finishing his suspension.

"I would say that it has been a process. It has been a very long process for Dante, for our club, for our supporters. The process is not done by the reintegration this weekend. First, I would like to say that there is full focus on the match this weekend. I think that is very important. This group, since last Monday, has done an incredible job in focusing under challenging circumstances and this is another challenging circumstance. Wednesday night was challenging because we were down players. 

Now this is a challenging circumstance because of what’s going on in regard to Dante. In terms of his process, what I would like to speak to is, that the process started with Dante, number one. Dante did a very good job of admitting to the mistake, owning the mistake, recognizing that it was a huge mistake. There were consequences that followed that for himself, for our club, for our supporters, for San Jose. There were a lot of parties involved in this and he took ownership, maybe not in the immediate, but very shortly thereafter, in order to start this process toward healing. 

He has gone through a rigorous process, one that MLS has involved with, certainly our club has been involved with. We hired an outside firm to make sure that the restorative process was thorough. Speaking to that, he has been involved in six or seven sessions with this firm that has been a very important educational process about the impact of something like this for both himself and everyone that has been involved. The club, the players, the staff members. I think it has made him more and more aware of how that has affected others as well as why it is wrong and why this was a huge mistake. 

Where I can give Dante the most credit is the way that he's restored individual relationships within the guys that's outside of a formal process. This is what's impressive to me, the most impressive thing is he's taken the time to speak more individually with players and connect in smaller groups in his own genuine way. That's not guided by anything other than his own human nature. 

Right. Then the last part of this process to get him back to where he is today, the reintegration into the team for Saturday, is that there was a unanimous vote that took place from the team. Rather, there was a vote, but the vote was do we want them back or not, players only. And this was unanimous, saying we absolutely want Dante back in, we think that he's learned from the situation and he understands the situation better and will understand moving forward that there's still a lot of work to do. Dante -- this is a long answer, but I think it has to be a thorough one -- Dante is now in a position where he's able to be back with the team. But that's been the decision through the process of the players, staff, club, that he's allowed to come back now at this stage. If others aren't there yet, supporters, anyone else, that's okay. That's understandable, in your own time. 

What I'd ask for though, is one thing that I said the other day and this is a lesson that I learned from one of our black players and one of our youngest black players in Serge Ngoma. I spoke to Serge shortly after this happened with Dante. And I said, 'How has this affected you?' I wanted to listen to him. And one of the things that he taught me was because I had, you know, mixed emotions about what was going on, as well. But the thing that gave me really good direction is this young, you know, just incredibly intelligent, black human being, there was a black player in our team and he said, 'Listen, this is a time that is going to allow me to educate someone on why this is,' he looked at it as an opportunity to educate someone, and an opportunity to be a good human being to someone else who made a big mistake. 

Another lesson in regards to that from Serge, to then Sola [Winley] with MLS, and it's hand-in-hand with what I'm talking about with Serge. This was a hateful use of words by Dante, no doubt about that. We can't tolerate that. 

There has to be consequences again for that. But Dante, we've learned, is not a hateful person. And he has to continue to prove that every single day. I hope that that answers this question, you know, thoroughly on him. If there's more questions I understand completely, but I also want to go back to the original point: we have to have full focus on Montreal this weekend and Dante is a part of that."

We have seen reports from a Belgium TV interview asking Vanzeir about what he said, why he said it, and the reaction he received on the pitch that April night. The outrage and anger from the supporters certainly were palpable, and already the thoughts of sending him away for good are still around for some discussing this situation.

But from my perspective, here are my thoughts on this situation. Without a doubt, this was a terrible situation that should never have happened, and Vanzeir should've been smart enough to never have those types of thoughts. Yet he is 24 years old, and sadly he's still young to make these types of mistakes. The environment in Europe is still not strong enough to end these terrible moments as we have seen in certain parts of that continent where racist rhetoric is still thriving.

Even though Vanzeir didn't aim that word at anybody, he still said it and that was terrible. Jeremy Ebobisse of the San Jose Earthquakes who was on the pitch that day, also said from the Earthquakes Zoom post-match press conference that Vanzeir said the word, but never at anyone on the pitch. 

So I believe he deserves at least a second chance from everyone from within the club, and from those who support the club as well. As long as he has learned from this situation, and never does this again, he can become a player who was brought here to do the one thing everyone expects him to do. That is to score goals, rack up wins for the Red Bulls, and get back on track to salvage this current season.

But make no mistake folks, if Vanzeir does this again at any time with the club, then he doesn't deserve a third chance. That's when you inform him that his contract is terminated, and you put him on the plane back to Belgium. You sat with him, you got him the education for the mess he made, he talked to his teammates to apologize for his mistakes, and they voted him back in after all this happened. He needs to understand that this type of rhetoric will not be tolerated at all, but honestly, he should've known that right away.


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