From the Rev: Mulling over Mullan

Apr 14, 2012

As I watched this afternoon’s match up between the Colorado Rapids and the Seattle Sounders, there was one thing on my mind: Brian Mullan. Many are aware of the controversy surrounding Mullan and the Sounders’ Steve Zakuani whose leg was broken in a tackle last April. Zakuani has been rehabbing and recovering and was relegated to watching today’s match from a players box suite in a suit and tie. Mullan, who did not speak with media before the match, shared briefly after the game a few comments.

In the hours immediately following last April’s injury, Zakuani was at risk and needed surgery immediately to relieve pain and pressure from the break. I know many on the Sounders were holding their breath – this was their prized draftee and a promising young player; career, even life seemed to hang in the balance. Mullan had no idea of the extent of the injuries until the game was finished and he was heading home.

For those that know Mullan, he’s a wily veteran with an extensive playing career, but ‘dirty player’ is not a title that would be used in the same sentence for one of two players in the league to have earned five championship rings.  He joined the Rapids to help them win the coveted Major League Soccer Cup, and that he did in his first year with the club.

The ensuing fine ($5,000) and disciplinary action (additional 9-game ban) in 2011 after the tackle and injury was reviewed by committee, was one the largest to be handed out in MLS history. But the sobering piece for Mullan was not so much the money or the suspension (which he did not appeal), but the extent of Zakuani’s injury and the vitriolic nature of the fans and media that were calling for Mullan’s “head,” so-to-speak. He issued multiple apologies and you can read more of the original story here. But, despite the efforts taken, it seemed as though it all might be too much for the quiet-natured Mullan.

Fast forward to today, the return trip to Seattle and one of the most difficult places to play in the league – but when 38,000 fans are ‘booing’ you every time you touch the ball, it can seem a lot more. I did feel that the fans were professional enough – any team will ‘boo’ the villan. I was wondering if there would be more pugilistic kinds of threats or danger toward Mullan, but it seems that the game went without incident in any sort of regard to that direction – although there will always be extreme fans or media members that say and do extreme things for attention or that cannot fully understand all the principles that come into play around such things. Professional players do not live in a reality similar to our own and media members and fans are often disillusioned about the lives of pro athletes.

Zakuani, for his part, has not only been professional and even forgiving – something that I think would be hard for anyone given the drastic nature of the injury. But Zakauni is known for his Christian faith, and so it is really great to see that thread of forgiveness present in his life – not just a lip-sync, but a true action. Zakuani’s attitude deserves praise as a testament to faith in a modern-day context.

Personally, though, there is some disappointment for me as the Rapids team chaplain. Perhaps I am too idealistic. Perhaps I am too romantic. Perhaps my desire for the beautiful, storybook ending just isn’t to be hoped for. I had imagined Brian Mullan walking over to Steve Zakuani at midfield, with the entire of Seattle watching as the two shook hands, hugged, and forgiveness and grace at center stage with tears and confetti while the Sounders faithful sang a new hymn of football reconciliation. But such things were not to be today – but maybe another day. We can only hope and pray.


Rev. Brad Kenney

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