Major League Soccer officials will not punish the Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya for grabbing a field microphone during a national television broadcast on Sunday night and urging Congress to act to end gun violence.
The shouted statement, which came moments after Bedoya scored the opening goal in a Union victory, was not out of character for the player, who had expressed — in more explicit terms — a similar call to action on social media in the hours before the match. But it created a potentially uncomfortable situation for M.L.S., which has striven, often in opposition with its own fans, to keep political signs and banners out of its stadiums.
An M.L.S. official, speaking after a league meeting on the incident Monday morning, said Bedoya would not face a fine or a suspension.
Bedoya, a former member of the United States national team, scored the opening goal in the Union’s 5-1 win over D.C. United on Sunday night and then peeled off toward the sideline, where he celebrated with his teammates. But as the gathering broke up, Bedoya headed to a microphone placed on the grass in the corner of the field and shouted: “Congress, do something now. End gun violence. Let’s go.”
The game was broadcast on Fox Sports 1, and Bedoya’s message into the microphone, several of which are positioned around the field at every game to pick up the sounds of the action, could clearly be heard by viewers. It could not be heard in the stadium however.
The message was vague, understandable given its brevity. But Bedoya’s social media made clear what kind of action he was seeking. Bedoya, the team captain, had tweeted earlier in the day about the weekend mass shootings that killed 29 people in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, saying “We can start with stricter background checks, red flag laws, making a registry for gun purchases, closing gun show loopholes, and taxing ammunition.”
Though his on-field message was brief, it nonetheless caused a stir. While some athletes have been outspoken on political issues, and have taken actions as varied as kneeling during the anthem and wearing shirts with printed messages during pregame warm-ups, that activity has seldom taken place on the field of play during a game.
In extended postgame remarks, Bedoya said: “It’s absurd man. I’m not going to sit idly and watch this stuff happen and not say something. Before I’m an athlete, a soccer player, I’m a human being first.”
His coach, Jim Curtin, and his team expressed their full support for Bedoya after the game.
“The Philadelphia Union support Alejandro Bedoya,” the team said in a statement. “He is taking a stand. The events that transpired this weekend across the country are deplorable. Our hearts go out to everyone affected.”
Curtin said after the game, “I’m on Alejandro’s team on the Philadelphia Union and I’m on Alejandro’s team in support of his comments on gun control.” Curtin called the number of mass shootings in the United States “outrageous.”
Bedoya, 32, is of Colombian heritage but was born in New Jersey and played college soccer in the United States. After spells in Sweden, Scotland and France, he joined the Union in 2016. He was a regular with the United States national team earlier in the decade and represented it at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Last year, after a shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., near where he grew up, he expressed solidarity with victims of that attack.
In the hours after the game, M.L.S. fans created several crowdfunding campaigns to raise money to pay any potential fine Bedoya received.
The league has sometimes struggled this year to deal with political statements by its fans, juggling supporting a right to free speech with taking action against hateful comments.
After news emerged that right-wing extremists had been attending New York City F.C. games, M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber said the league would not bar them pre-emptively because “our job is not to judge and profile any fan.” His position was that the league would only attempt to police political behavior and fan misconduct inside stadiums, but after the comments drew widespread criticism Garber clarified his remarks, saying, “Major League Soccer condemns hateful groups, hateful actions and speech.”
The incident did little to cool a simmering feud between the league and the fan groups it has cultivated as the core of its matchday experience. Before this season, the Independent Supporters Council, a coalition of fan groups, and groups devoted to individual teams took exception to changes to the league’s code of conduct. The code barred using “political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures.”
The supporters objected to the word “political,” and the council said in a statement, “We, as an organization, feel strongly on ensuring that displays of human rights are not mistaken for political statements.”
Fans in Seattle were barred in July from displaying a flag of the Iron Front, a group that fought the Nazis before World War II. The team said the flag was prohibited political imagery. It later apologized.
Many fans voiced their support for Bedoya. In response to a tweet from the league asking fans to choose a player of the week, the replies were nearly unanimous. Though he wasn’t one of the listed candidates, by far the most common response was a hashtag: “#VoteBedoya.”