The New York Red Bulls have announced Dante Vanzeir will be reinstated for Saturday’s game against Montreal after a six-game suspension for a racist remark.
Vanzeir admitted to calling a referee a ‘monkey’ last month during a game against the San Jose Earthquakes, although the Belgian striker said he meant it ‘in the sense of a clown, dummy’ after disagreeing with a field call.
Despite his apparent intentions, this led to a ban and a $10,000 fine for Vanzeir, as well as “emotional responsibility, restorative practice and cultural sensitivity sessions,” said the team, which will continue.
Following a unanimous vote of approval from his teammates, Vanzeir will be available this weekend.
“Yeah, I would say it’s been a process,” head coach Troy Lesesne said Friday. “It has been a very long process for Dante, for our club, for our supporters. The process is not over with the reinstatement this weekend.
Dante Vanzeir admitted to using the word monkey in an interview with Belgian media outlet Sporza
And new head coach Troy Lesesne will now look to rebuild trust with supporters
“In terms of his process, what I would like to talk about is that the process started with Dante, number one. Dante did a very good job of admitting error, acknowledging error, acknowledging that it was a huge mistake. There were consequences that followed that for himself, for our club, for our fans, for San Jose. There were a lot of parties involved in that and he took ownership, maybe not right away, but very soon to begin this healing process.
Lesesne described the process Vanzeir went through to return as “rigorous” and said he had already taken part in seven sessions.
“I think it made him more and more aware of how it affected others as well as why it’s wrong and why it was a huge mistake,” Lesesne continued. “Where I can give Dante the most credit is how he restored the individual relationships between the guys outside of a formal process.
“That’s what’s impressive to me, the most impressive thing is that he took the time to talk more one-on-one with the players and connect in small groups in his authentic way.”
Vanzeir’s return comes after a massive strike by three groups of fans at a home game against Houston Dynamo in April.
Fans stayed for the national anthem before walking out, as they were unhappy with the length of the suspension and then-coach Gerhard Struber’s handling of the delicate situation.
Vanzier was suspended for six games by the team after the incident, but will be back on Saturday
Struber, who has since left the club, kept Vanzeir on the pitch following the 64th-minute incident and only brought him off in the 87th minute.
Vanzeir issued an apology to Belgian outlet Sporza during the suspension.
“I made a mistake, but I hope the fans can forget about me and welcome me to the pitch.” Because it remains my greatest passion. I want to experience great moments with the club and the supporters,” he said.
“I fully accept this sanction. During this period, I can process everything, take the necessary measures and, above all, restore confidence in my teammates, the club and the fans. I want to show that I am a good guy, that I am in my head and in my heart, I am free of racism.
“The referee whistles a foul, after which I start a discussion with him. Afterwards, I still complain about the reference. I then said monkey, but in the sense of clown, dummy. Because I thought he made the wrong decision.
“It never even occurred to me that that word would be offensive to any of my opponents. I grumbled at myself and misjudged the impact of that word. In our language, this word is often used with an intention that is not at all racist.
Red Bulls fans have protested against the team and its now ex-manager Gerhard Struber
Fans were unhappy with Struber’s perceived lack of action when the incident happened
While the players opted to bring Vanzeir back to the team, Lesesne acknowledged that some fans might feel uncomfortable with this development.
Dante is now in a position where he can be back with the team,” he said. “But it has been the decision throughout the process of the players, the staff, the club, that he is allowed to come back now at this stage. If others are not there yet, support someone else, it does not matter. It is understandable in your time.
“It was a hateful use of words by Dante, there is no doubt about it. We cannot tolerate this. There must still be consequences to this. But Dante, we have learned, is not a person odious. And he must continue to prove it every day.
The Red Bulls enter Saturday’s game second in the MLS Eastern Conference, with just two wins in 13 games so far.