MLS suspends Felipe Hernandez for betting on league play; Sporting KC offers support


Posted: Oct 9, 2021, 2:26 p.m.

Last update on: October 9, 2021, 04:23 a.m.

Major League Soccer announced on Friday that it has suspended a Sporting Kansas City player for at least the remainder of the season. It was after he admitted to betting on two league games that didn’t involve his team.

Sports betting by MLS players
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Hernandez, seen here celebrating his first MLS goal in a June 23 game against the Colorado Rapids, has been suspended for breaking MLS betting rules. The 23-year-old admitted to team officials that he had bet on league games, but none involved his side. (Image: Jill Toyoshiba / Kansas City Star)

An MLS statement revealed that Felipe Hernandez “engaged in large-scale and illegal gambling” in violation of the league’s gambling integrity rules. The 23-year-old midfielder met with team officials on July 5, revealing he feared for his safety due to gambling debts.

Hernandez has since been on unpaid leave and is in treatment for a gambling addiction.

The team and the league have contacted law enforcement and MLS officials have called on Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP to conduct an independent review. This review, carried out in cooperation with the law enforcement investigation, involved interviewing witnesses, accessing online betting accounts and analyzing betting activity on certain league matches.

Investigators could not find any evidence that Hernandez had inside information about any of the contests in question, nor could they find anything indicating that he had previously bet on an MLS game. involving his team. The independent investigation also found no evidence that the integrity of a match reviewed had been compromised by betting activity. Additionally, no other MLS player has been determined to have bet on league competitions.

“The integrity of our game and the safety of the players are the top priority of the leagues,” the league said in a statement. “MLS thanks law enforcement, Sporting Kansas City and the MLS Players Association for their cooperation and assistance in this matter.”

About Felipe Hernandez

In his own statement posted on his Twitter account, Hernandez said he used the time away from sports “to reassess, take responsibility and get proper care for something that has affected me a lot.”

He added that he would not make any further comment as he worked on his return to the league.

Hernandez had been a part-time player with the MLS team. Since 2019, he has played in 24 MLS games while playing for Sporting’s second unit, which plays in the USL Championship. However, it looked like he was on the verge of making a breakthrough with the best side on the squad, just as he told Sporting management.

He has appeared in five straight games, including four starts. During that time, he also scored his first MLS goal and recorded two of his three career assists.

I look forward to doing everything I can to get back on the pitch and will work harder than ever to help Sporting KC achieve their goals, ”said Hernandez.

However, before that happens, he will have to apply for reinstatement, which he will be able to do as of January 1. Commissioner Don Garber will make the decision based on Hernandez’s adherence to certain league requirements, such as ongoing guidance.

MLS can also resume its investigation at any time if “new credible information” is discovered, the statement said.

Sporting KC supports Hernandez

Hernandez is considered a “house” player in MLS. The Venezuelan native moved to Nashville, where he became a member of the United States’ national youth teams. He joined Sporting KC’s residential academy seven years ago and has progressed in the organization. His contract with the team includes an option for the 2022 season.

At a press conference on Friday, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said professional athletes should not bet on their own sport. However, he added that he believes Hernandez is taking the right steps and deserves a second chance with the team if MLS reinstates him.

“I think you have to think about that part as well: it took a lot of courage to come forward,” Vermes said. “Because I think he’s smart enough to realize that he knows he wasn’t supposed to be playing, but he showed up anyway. And that’s not an easy thing to do, because he could easily let his mind race and say, “Hey, maybe I’ll never play football again. “

Due to the long-term relationship the team has had with Hernandez, Vermes said the club believe they have a responsibility to do more with the players than just put them on the pitch.

It’s much bigger than that, ”he said. “This obligation is that we want to try to help with the whole person, and it’s not just about supporting someone when they are contributing and doing something good for you. You have to support them and help them when things are not going so well.

In addition to the league-mandated advice, Vermes said former Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who detailed his battle with gambling addiction in an autobiography years ago, could be someone who could help. Hernandez after leaving his treatment program.

“He’s always been … extremely transparent about what happened to him and how he got away with it,” the manager said. “And I’m sure he’ll be a great mentor for Felipe.”

Sports betting and teams always converging

Hernandez is not the first American athlete in a post-PASPA-era team sport to be suspended for breaking a league’s betting rules. PASPA stands for Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, the revolutionary law that lifted the national ban on sports betting outside of Las Vegas.

Josh Shaw has been suspended throughout the 2020 season after making an NFL bet on a Caesars sportsbook in Las Vegas. Shaw was on the injured reserve for the Arizona Cardinals at the time. While he was reinstated by the league this spring, the 29-year-old defensive back is currently not on an NFL roster.

Like other major professional sports, MLS has adopted legal sports betting since the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban in 2018. Less than a year after this landmark decision, MLS announced that MGM Resorts was its partner official of the league.

A year ago, DC United and FanDuel struck a 10-year deal that would allow the sports betting operator to run a bookie at Audi Field in the nation’s capital. Prior to that, Caesars Entertainment had been a sponsor of United, having secured a logo sponsorship deal on the team’s shirt sleeves during the 2020 season.

And even though sports betting isn’t legal in Texas, PointsBet became a founding partner of Austin FC in a deal reached last month.

“I think it’s inevitable that it’s in all sports in a legal way,” Vermes said.

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