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Kai Wagner suspended three games for using racial slur

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

This story has been updated with Kai Wagner’s statement.

Major League Soccer suspended Philadelphia Union defender Kai Wagner for three games for using a racial slur against New England Revolution attacker Bobby Wood, the league announced on Tuesday evening.

Specifically, the league found that Wagner violated the league’s on-field antidiscrimination policy during the Union’s first match of the playoffs last Saturday.

According to reports last week, Wagner directed a slur at Wood in the moments following an 87th minute foul by Revs forward Giacomo Vrioni. Wagner used a slur in German that targets Asian people. Wood, who is of Japanese and African American descent, speaks German and has spent the majority of his professional career in Germany.

In its news release, the league said that it considered “many factors” in deciding on the length of the suspension, including “Wagner’s immediate acceptance of responsibility, willingness to participate in a restorative practices process to repair the harm caused, and his cooperation with the league’s investigation.”

“Wagner is also required to continue to participate in league-mandated education and training sessions, a process which has already begun, and must remain in full compliance with a program directed by a league-appointed restorative practices expert,” according to the league.

Wagner will be suspended for, at a minimum, the rest of the Union’s series against the Revolution, as well as the conference semifinal should the Union win the series. If the Union beat the Revs tomorrow night, Wagner’s suspension would also include the conference final if the Union reached that round.

“We support the ruling of Major League Soccer and value the importance and seriousness of fostering an environment that is inclusive to all,” the Union said in a club statement. “The Philadelphia Union does not condone any form of harassment, discrimination, or abusive language.”

Wagner, 26, was already expected to leave the club in the offseason, and it is unlikely that his behavior increased the chances of a contract extension.

“The last few days have been very difficult for me and my family,” Wagner said in a post on his Instagram. “I said something I deeply regret in the heat of the moment that was in response to defend the unacceptable comments regarding my family. I sincerely apologize for this and will work on bettering myself and my actions. This is not a representation of who I am.”

Wagner’s racist behavior has cratered his standing among the fan base, tarnished his career with Philadelphia, and put his team’s playoff chances in jeopardy.


  1. Nice job, dummkopf. He was definitely fired up during that match, but ZERO excuse for that, even in the heat of the moment. We’ll probably get past NE, but Cincy? Yeah, right.
    Auf wiedersehen, Kai. Way to leave on such a sour note.

    • Cincy will be without two of their starting centerbacks for the semi=final. Miazga might also be looking at a lengthy suspension for entering the refs locker room after the game at RBA too.

      • I understand on field villains and mastering the dark arts and even full on dirty play but generally I think this is the professional doing their job and once the final whistle blows they go back to being a normal human being. Miazga might be an exception. I think he might be a total donkey off the field too.

  2. Not excusing what he said, but let’s give the young man a chance to atone for his mistake and come out the other side a better person. To go from a revered and respected member of the team – and it’s best player – to a pariah must be tough. Hopefully he’ll have a chance to speak to the fans and apologize for his actions and words. Sad that this might be his last substantive chapter in Philadelphia. Appreciate the club’s no nonsense statement, but wonder if it doesn’t play into their prior determined plan not to re-sign him.

    • I agree on atonement. What’s disappointing is he’s probably been doing this during his career here and only now getting caught. Wood deserved the ire but not this. As Kai’s career here ends, hoping he lands elsewhere a better person. What will be uncomfortable is his post career affiliation with the club. Easily go down as a top 5 player on the club. Hoping time smooths that out and he’s welcomed back.

    • Well, his apology didn’t win me over. If the word BUT is used in any apology, you’re definitely not owning up to your mistake. He’s basically blaming Wood for him using a slur because of things that were said about his family. I mean, what athlete hasn’t heard something about “your mom” or “your wife”. It’s just trash talk…different than a racial slur. Sorry, but you don’t one day wake up and out of the blue decide to use a slur bc someone got under your skin. In his 26 years, definitely not his first time and I’m sure, not his last. This wasn’t a “mistake” as much as it was about his character. Sorry Kai, I don’t buy what your sellin.

      • He never said “but”

      • Ok… I am absolutely not defending him. But even people who are not actively racist know the words, and if you get so blind with rage that you really want to hurt someone… you know what words will. I have seen it happen. It’s the same as someone who calls their wife, fried, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, whatever something in an argument and then immediately regrets it. Like a c word or whatever. I have no idea what would happen in a game, what Wood would have said, but it is possible for people to get so angry that they would say anything just because they know it will hurt someone. Again not at all defending it. I have just seen people get that angry.

      • Do you have any evidence that Kai Wagner has used a slur before, or are you judging him based on your assumption?

  3. .
    Just absolutely fucked your team….mate.
    Not much else to say.
    Insult to injury… it may be better if they lose Wednesday in order to force a third game which maybe gets him back for games that matter assuming they win next round? Let alone maybe he never wears the uniform again.
    What a bummer. All of it.

  4. Gross and terribly disappointing way to (likely) end his tenure as one of our all time best players. Any context on “in response to defend the unacceptable comments regarding my family”?

    • It was probably something to the effect of “your wife”. What athlete hasn’t heard that one? In fact in the video that was circulating of the incident, you see Kai say something like “he said something about my wife”. So his comeback was a racial slur.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        …. a good deal of speculation and gray area in this and the other comment Jose.

  5. MLS DOUBLE STANDARD …….The MLS has a “zero tolerance ” for abusive language as long as they are not losing money in the process.

    They will continue to schedule and play tournament games in Mexico and Central American stadiums that shower beer bottles , batteries and curses including racial and sexual insults to MLS anglo and black players.

    Wagner to his credit admitted to the slur. I am sure he will make a public statement in the future.

    I am also sure Wood was totally innocent and did not provoke Wagner in any way. LOL

    I think Wagner is well liked by his team mates and coaches. It is ironic that the MLS almost immediately reaches a decision like this and punishes Wagner without considering Woods role in the incident?

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Appreciate this.
      Kai is wrong no doubt — my guess is Bobby Wood is no victim either.

    • I don’t know if I would characterize Wagner as well-liked by his teammates. While certainly some teammates like him, I am aware that he and one former teammate mutually loathed each other.
      Wagner was playing below his talent level in the German third division when the Union found him. The on-field evidence is that he yells at the referees almost every game and more than almost every other player. He’s agitated for a move every offseason but none has materialized. And the Union are willing to let him leave despite his immense talent. So, in sum, the circumstantial evidence suggests (but does not prove) that he is a difficult guy to get along with.

      • John from 127 says:

        I appreciate the insight Peter. Kai has not learned to manage his passion, control his anger and understand that small things should be let go. There is no small thing in his mind if it offends his sense of fairness.

        I have a son that was a PIA as a player to his coach dad and referees. He eventually became a decent youth referee. And a great young man.

        Kai used his passion for the game and getting it right to become the best left back in MLS. He is, no doubt, a challenging character.

        Hopefully, he learns to manage this better moving forward and channels his energy more productively.

        I wish him the best in his next move and will miss his contributions on the field.

      • Peter , wow you certainly jumped to conclusions on how well Wagner is liked by his team mates and coaches. You referenced one former player????? seriously ??? Yes he is vocal. That shows leadership skills. By the way so is Martinez. He is even more vocal. Should we get rid of him to ???. Wagner deserves a lot more money then what he is getting with the Union. You also forgot to reference that Wagner has said in interviews and other occasion he would like to stay , he likes the city, the team and coaches He just needs to be fairly compensated. He is at his peak market value. The Union obviously value other positions and players more. You do realize he is the best left back this team has ever had by far. His contributions on offense with crosses set pieces corners and assist make him the best “offensive “left back in the league if you look at his assist , successful crosses and corner kicks over the last 3 years. There is a reason Leeds and West Ham and others wanted him last year. They just could not work out a deal with the Union. I like Mbaizo and Harriel but there is going to be a huge drop off in the attack from the left side next year. I guess you forgot how bad the former U left backs were. Mark my words. Be sure to post at the end of next year and let me know how the new left backs are doing.

      • Joe B, with respect, I’ve been covering this team for nearly ten years, have watched most home matches for the last three seasons from the press box, have talked to many of the players and people around the team, etc. I am not jumping to conclusions that I don’t think are supported by what I’ve seen and heard during the extensive amount of time I’ve spent around the team. I didn’t dispute that he’s a fabulous player, or that he’s said publicly that he’d like to stay with the Union, or that it will be difficult to replace him. You may disagree with my observations, and I may be wrong, but I am not making things up based on nothing.

    • Just an embarrassing take. You’ve got whataboutism about stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with this, trying to downplay using a racial slur by suggesting the victim deserved it, and then flat out saying non-factual things like MLS reaching an immediate decision. They took ten damn days to decide.
      If you use a racial slur at an opponent, you fucked up and you’re the bad guy regardless of any other circumstances. All the other stuff you’re bringing up are excuses that amount to nothing. Don’t racially abuse people and don’t be an apologist for racial abuse. Not that hard. Do better

      • This right here! Boggles my mind how people are trying to give this guy excuses for what he said. “Wood is no victim”. Huh?? First everyone was saying let’s not jump the gun until the investigation is complete.. people were doubting he said anything. Then he admits to using a racial slur and now ppl are bummed that he actually did say it and now want to give him an excuse as to why he may have. Seriously? Then in his apology he is basically blaming the victim for using inappropriate language about his family and that’s why he used the slur. So it’s not actually taking accountability for YOUR actions when you are blaming another person for why you responded in the way you did. Also, to Justsaiyan, you are correct that he never used the word “BUT”, but he might as well have because it’s the same thing.

      • First of all, equating “wait for facts” with whatabouting Bobby Wood is ridiculous. I said wait for facts because leaping to conclusions is not helpful and often not correct. Rational heads not conspiracy theories. But now you have the league’s answer, and I think it’s fair to say his punishment is not enough. I will not regret his exit at this point.
        I am also sure Bobby Wood said something, but I don’t think it excuses anything here. After all, Wood was also investigated as part of this a fb not sanctioned. Wagner crossed a line.
        Both things can be true and it is always the best to withhold judgement until facts are known.

    • Bitterly disappointing end to the Union career of an all-time club great. SMDH. At least now Ernst won’t have to deal with fam frustration about not re-signing him…

  6. John from 127 says:

    I think it matters how he handled the situation, admitted his error and accepted responsibility. I appreciate joe b including Woods’ behavior. While racist slurs and insulting your family are not the same, why is the second one okay?

    I once decked a friend for insulting my mother during a pick up game. We were both wrong. I got tossed.

    I disagree with the assessment that it has ruined his standing among fans. While disappointed in his actions, he didn’t shrink from the moment and lie. He, belatedly, acted honorably and admitted his error. And I accept that this is the time he got caught, maybe not the only time he’s done something wrong. The purpose of the re-education process is to prevent future failures. If that is part of the outcome, then he grows as a person.

    As a left back for the Union, he has been a great servant to the club. He’s been an indispensable part of the organization’s rise to sustained excellence. I will always admire his contribution to the team, organization and fans. And hope that he uses this failure to become a better person.

    Given the opportunity, I would rise to cheer him one last time as a way of saying Thank You, and to encourage him to be better.

    • Appreciate your insight John, and although you acknowledged that using a racist slur and insulting your family are not the same thing, you are wondering why the latter is ok. That is the trash talk that’s part of the game in any sport across the board. It’s so generic that for someone to lash out with a racial slur because someone said “I did this with your wife” or “this with your mom” is crazy to me. That’s the norm in competitive sports. Calling someone something racist is not. What kind of trash talk do you think happens on the pitch, the court, the field…”Your cleats are ugly”? Come on, man. The whole point is you’re trying to rile the opponent up and get them off their game for your benefit. Calling someone a racial slur isn’t trash talk, it’s hate.

      • Jose Blanco, on the assumption that I may be older than you, trash talking is part of MODERN sports.
        It was much less common decades ago, because the recipient almost always took offense and retaliated, outside the context of Jim Crow, and other cross-cultural less terroristic contexts.
        You made a derogatory remark about some one’s mother, you risked a fight. Few of us were married back then, so I cannot comment about derogatory comments about wives.
        I am going back several decades. A maxim of Vince Lombardi was always to respect your opponent.
        It is modern, and to my older sense of values unfortunate, that “dissing” someone is now “acceptable.”
        At bottom it denies the universality of human rights.

      • Why is it OK that trash talking is part of the sport? What if instead of “I did this with your wife” it’s “I heard your kid has Down Syndrome and doesn’t deserve to live” or something along those lines? (in a situation where their child does have Down Syndrome). Is that OK?
        Kai was 100% wrong, but that doesn’t mean that what Woods said was acceptable either. (And at this point I don’t think we have enough information to know one way or the other.)

      • .
        Jose—- As in …hypothetically saying – you’re wife is a whore and your sister is a nazi… is “in game trash talking” – is normative and therefore acceptable —is exactly my point in this… it’s a bullshit take.

        I’m sorry Kai did what he did… I agree he needs to have a consequence. I do not condone any of it. Provocation has its lines. I stand by my argument.

    • The victim in all cases is a provocateur as well and is not innocent to the incident…..the fact he pursued is in a sense vindictive and trying to administer retribution. Do not mistake this as me condoning slurs, however my ethnicity has been slurred many times walk away from it because i am proud what i am no matter what. ITS ALL BULLCRAP
      but it is necessary for the league to have it and enforce it.

      • I really like what you’ve said here.

      • John from 127 says:

        Thanks Santo. I really like your take.

        I guess I am older. You can say whatever you like about me, but bring my family in to it and we have a problem.

        Trash talking is NOT making the on field product better. And sometimes it makes things worse.

        All that said, Kai’s response crossed a bright line and he earned his punishment.

  7. Seems like the punishment fits the offense, particularly because Kai admitted wrong doing and cooperated. I think a good course of action to take in these incidents is to focus on learning and education. Outright bans and banishment are medieval tools. Zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero roads to make amends.

    I hope he genuinely is sorry, understands his mistake and grows as a human being.

    • I too hope he grows from this but for me it’s a weak sauce punishment. Shame to lose the talent but I prefer the team has some decency in it. I don’t need associated with this. I grew up with too many people who threw these things around without caring. I was called slurs as trash talking even when they weren’t my race or sexuality. I’m done with it.

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