U.S. national team and former Union centerback Mark McKenzie received racial abuse in comments on his Instagram account following the Americans’ 3-2 win over Mexico in Sunday’s CONCACAF Nations League final.
“The amount of racial abuse and personal attacks on myself and family from ‘supporters’ and ‘non supporters’ just ain’t it,” McKenzie, who is Black, wrote in a post to his Instagram stories feed late Monday. He included a screencap with an example of the abuse.
The post, which was live for 24 hours, was shared widely among fans and media.
“It’s absolutely disgusting, things like that, and it has no place in the sport,” U.S. manager Gregg Behalter said Tuesday. “The guys in our business, professional sports, you take enough criticism about performance, and about guys having an off game, and saying you’re not a good player, or something like that. And to bring something like race into it is absolutely disgusting and out of bounds, and has no place.”
McKenzie, 22, committed a giveaway in the first minute of Sunday’s game that led to Mexico’s opening goal. He was also whistled for a handball in the Americans’ 18-yard box in the 119th minute that led to a penalty kick. Ethan Horvath saved Andrés Guardado’s shot to preserve the win.
In between those moments, McKenzie had a lot of good plays, including a big block of a shot by Mexico star Jesús “Tecatito” Corona in the 57th minute.
McKenzie also played the entirety of the U.S.’ 1-0 semifinal win over Honduras.
‘Closer to home’
There has been a significant rise in online abuse toward non-white athletes over the last year-and-a-half, much of it posted anonymously. Berhalter has watched high-profile English soccer players such as Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford deal with it, and noted that “now it hits closer to home” with the U.S. national team.
“We support Mark 100%, and we don’t stand for any of that stuff,” Berhalter said. “I wish there was a way to hold people like that more accountable. … People get on Twitter and get on Instagram, or whatever, and they get bold and they do things that they normally wouldn’t do in life.”
McKenzie plays his club soccer for Belgium’s Genk, which he joined from the Union in January on a $6 million transfer. He was born in New York City, grew up in Bear, Del., and went to high school at the Union’s youth academy in Wayne.
Genk won the Belgian Cup this season and finished second in the league, which earned the club a berth in the next-to-last round of next season’s UEFA Champions League qualifying playoffs.
On Tuesday night, McKenzie returned to social media with a message to fans posted on Twitter.
“There’s no denying it wasn’t my greatest performance in a massive match. I accept that,” he wrote. “Mistakes aside, the remarks DURING and AFTER the match have no place in the beautiful game we love or in spaces supposed to unite. Supporters or non supporters, fans or not … it’s about having respect for your fellow brothers and sisters from various corners of the earth because our diversity is what makes us so powerful.”
‘You are not a true fan’
Like his coach, McKenzie called on social media companies to be more proactive about abuse on their platforms.
“We as a people MUST do better and the organizations and corporations with the power to hand out repercussions NEED to step up and be held accountable as well,” he wrote. “No more lip service — you’re either for positive change or part of the problem.”
McKenzie also praised his teammates and the joy that came from their epic win Sunday, one which everyone involved won’t soon forget.
“This team from top to bottom has a bond that is unlike any other I’ve experienced,” he wrote. “We should celebrate and cherish how special it was (respectfully) because it’s a match that will go down in the history books.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation, in conjunction with the men’s team’s players, added a strongly-worded official statement on Wednesday.
“U.S. Soccer and the USMNT Players want to be clear: If you make racist, homophobic, vulgar or disrepectful comments while hiding behind the anonymity of social media, you are not a true fan. And you are not welcome. Ever,” they said. “To the real fans, thank you for your passionate, yet respectful, support. Please join us in calling out these cowards and let them know they are not welcome to join us on our journey to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
Steffen’s injury not as serious as feared
Berhalter revealed that the knee injury suffered by Downingtown’s Zack Steffen that forced the goalkeeper out of Sunday’s game in the 63rd minute was just a bone bruise. Steffen is expected to be sidelined for around 10 days. He will miss the Americans’ friendly against Costa Rica on Wednesday in Sandy, Utah (7 p.m., ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN) that closes out this early-summer stretch of games. Though he probably wouldn’t have played even if healthy.
After Wednesday, the Americans’ top stars will be given the rest of the summer off to take a long-awaited vacation. European club seasons resume in August, and the U.S. men begin their World Cup qualifying campaign in early September.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.