Mike Petke makes first public statement since his firing from Real Salt Lake, says use of slurs was ‘misinterpreted’

(Ted S. Warren | AP file photo) Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke watches from the sideline during the second half of the team's MLS soccer match against the Seattle Sounders in May 2018 in Seattle.

Former Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke made his first public statement Tuesday morning since receiving multiple sanctions and eventually being fired for using a homophobic slur in Spanish toward referees after a July 24 Leagues Cup game against Tigres UANL.

“To the fans of RSL and the people of Salt Lake, thank you so much for what you have done for me, my family and my team,” Petke said in a post from his official Twitter page. “Your support and energy make possible all the good we have accomplished. And for that, I will always be grateful.”

The organization fired Petke late Sunday night after he was expected to return to work Monday following a two-week suspension levied by the club without pay, missing a total of three games — a punishment handed down from Major League Soccer — and being fined $25,000. In his statement, Petke said he hoped to continue coaching at RSL and even signed an agreement to do so “just after this incident.”

But that didn’t come to fruition.

“It saddens me that while I held up my end of the bargain, including not speaking publicly about this matter until now, the team has chosen the route of terminating my contract,” Petke said. “Team ownership and I will have the chance to discuss the club’s decision in a forum in the future.”

The Athletic reported Monday that Petke had the option to resign from RSL and take a buyout in the low six figures, but decided against that, prompting the organization to fire him instead. The report also stated the club expects Petke to fight for the money remaining on his contract, which was set to expire after the 2020 season.

The claim that Petke had a signed agreement to continue coaching, coupled with Monday’s report, point to a possible messy breakup between RSL and the former coach.

Petke also addressed his use of the homophobic slur after the Tigres game. He admitted to losing his temper and showing poor judgment, which are why he willingly served the suspensions handed to him.

He did not acknowledge, however, that the language he used was homophobic.

“Much has been said about the Spanish word I used and different interpretations of it,” Petke said. “Regardless of how my actions have been misinterpreted or twisted, I have always respected the rights of all individuals and always will.”

Petke wished luck to interim head coach Freddy Juarez and his former team in their pursuit of an MLS playoff spot. During Petke’s three-game suspension, Juarez led Salt Lake to a record of two wins and one draw.

“While I may no longer be the head coach, I continue to believe in the players at Real Salt Lake and want to wish them and Coach Juarez the very best in their pursuit of a place in the postseason,” Petke said. “This is a tremendous group of athletes and it has been my honor and privilege to work with them. Knowing them as I do, I expect nothing but the best.”

RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said Tuesday after training that there have been a pair of meetings regarding the incident with Petke and said the first involved the former coach. He said Petke addressed the team briefly before being asked not to communicate with the team as part of his two-week suspension from the club.

Juarez added that Petke apologized to the team for this actions and knew right away that he should not have acted the way he did after the Tigres game.

“If you know Mike the way I know Mike, you know the type of person he is,” Juarez said. “He’s a good friend, a he’s a good mentor, he’s a good everything. I don’t need to sell him. I know who he is. The players know who he is.”