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Ignite donating player’s fine to gay groups

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FRIDAY, April 19 — The Lansing Ignite soccer team is making amends for a player’s homophobic slur against a fan by contributing his fine to the local LGBTQ community, according to a gay rights organization.

The Lansing Association for Human Rights said the team has offered to give local groups the $1,000 it has penalized the player, Ricky Lopez-Espin, for shouting “faggot” at a heckler during a game in South Carolina. LAHR said it is working with the Ignite to determine the recipients.

LAHR also said it has offered to provide the team with sensitivity training.

The Ignite declined to confirm LAHR’s assertions, which were made in a letter LAHR released to City Pulse.

The league and the team also suspended Lopez-Espin for four games. Both the player and team owner Tom Dickson have apologized for what he said.

LAHR was critical of the player, but it stopped short of calling for his dismissal.

“We recognize the gravity of these words, and the past and present harm they have had on our community. Because the offensive language used was such a clear example of the need for community education, LAHR stands in opposition to calls for the player’s termination. We believe a lesson is in the process of being learned.

“We cannot overlook the ways in which the player and the team have not only attempted to make amends for the offense, but are also working to ensure nothing like this happens again,” the statement continued. “Penalizing these efforts only serves to dissuade others from taking responsibility for the way their words and behaviors impact others.”

Cara Nader, the owner of Strange Matter Coffee Co., called for the team to dismiss Lopez-Espin.

“The homophobic slurs used by the Lansing Ignite player and the team’s response to sweep it under the rug are unacceptable,” she said in a statement she posted online that criticized the “cavalier manner” in which Lopez-Espin “openly, publicly and without reservation” used a slur used to “demean, shame and threaten” others.”

“Release this player from your roster,” the statement said. “Do not act like this is business as usual.”

City Pulse called for his release as well in an editorial Wednesday that said had he used the “N” word, he would have been fired.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor — the city has agreed to subsidize the team for as much as $3 million over five years — was more moderate.

“No one can control all of their employees, but they can make sure that employees understand the culture of the community and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Schor said. “If it was a mistake, then there should be a punishment, and an unpaid suspension is significant.

“If anything like it were to happen again, I would wholly expect him to be removed from the team.”

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