STANFORD, Calif. -- During what was the San Jose Earthquakes most exciting match of the year, a dramatic 1-1 draw against rivals the LA Galaxy in the 2016 California Clasico at Stanford Stadium, a large number of fans cast a pall on the proceedings with their insensitive chants of the homophobic slur "Puto!"
A cheer that is overused most infamously by fans of the Mexican men's national team and by supporters of many Liga MX teams, the P-word is yelled at the top of the lungs whenever the opposing goalkeeper restarts play with a goal kick. And Saturday night, with a club-record crowd of 50,816 filling Stanford Stadium to capacity, the derisive chant was heard loud and clear by those in the house and those watching on the Univision television broadcast at home.
"I don't think there's any place for that in the game of soccer," said Quakes midfielder Shea Salinas. "It's not something as players we condone or approve of. I was not very proud to see that happen at one of our home games."
To many supporters of Mexico, the chant is deemed more of a disparaging word you would use in good fun with those you are competing again. They will claim that "puto" has many meanings less hateful than the homophobic slur that most would agree is its primary definition: a gay man, with strong implications that he is a prostitute and that all gay men serve in this capacity.
But the argument comes across as more of a rationale for using the harmful language, not a compelling reason to ignore its more sinister meaning. After all, the Earthquakes game was played at the same time as SF Pride Week, and the Galaxy feature the only openly gay player in MLS, Robbie Rogers. The chant had no place at a sporting event in the Bay Area.
A statement from the San Jose Earthquakes was issued after the match, responding to the use of the derogatory chant by many of the fans in attendance.
"We are extremely disappointed and shocked at the behavior of a portion of our fan base during our match tonight at Stanford Stadium. As an organization, we do not tolerate or condone this type of speech at our matches. It violates the Earthquakes and Major League Soccer's Fan Code of Conduct and any fan found in violation of this code is subject to expulsion and further punishment.
"We pride ourselves on creating an inclusive and family-friendly environment for all fans. We will take an immediate leadership role in combating this type of behavior for the rest of the season and beyond."
Major League Soccer, which in years past has been very quick to quell overly offensive language by supporters -- the use of the "You suck, a**hole!" chant, prevalent earlier in the decade but almost nonexistent today -- may need to step in again to prevent the p-word cheer from taking hold in American soccer. That many fans in the stands at Stanford Stadium seemed oblivious to the homophobic nature of the cheer and participated along with the vocal minority that initiated its use indicates that a major push to education its supporters needs to be undertaken by MLS.
Earlier in the evening, the same cheer could be heard loud and clear during the Third-Place match in the 2016 Copa America Centenario between the U.S. men's national team and Colombia. It was an issue one week ago when Mexico faced Chile at Levi's Stadium in the tournament's quarterfinal round. Some television broadcasters elect to censor the chant, turning off the audio on every goal kick by the visiting team. To the uninformed, the chant may seem in good spirits and all part of the atmosphere fans expect at a soccer match. But such ignorance should not be ignored.
Alternatives to the disparaging chant do exist, and others could easily be created to replace it, all with no loss to the sights and sounds of professional soccer. The Vancouver Whitecaps, for example, when they joined MLS featured Joe Cannon as their goalkeeper, and in a play on his last name, made the sound of a fuse burning in the moments leading up to his goal kicks and then let out a resounding "Boom!" when the kick was made. Creative, fun, and definitely atmosphere-building. No one is offended by such a chant.
Who is to blame for what transpired at Stanford Stadium during the California Clasico. Was it supporters of the Earthquakes or the Galaxy that precipitated the rise of the chant's over the course of the game? Were curious onlookers at the match, which is intended to be a celebration of soccer and the official kick-off to the Summer of Soccer in the Bay Area, the ones that started it? And who should be left accountable?
Most, if not all of these questions are unlikely to be answered, but there were plenty of fans at the game, and watching around the nation on television, that see no place in American soccer for the offensive chant. And social media was abuzz with that sentiment, though some found the controversy overblown.
GAWD. Do better, people. https://t.co/3nukTe9hRI— Andy Edwards (@AndyEdMLS) June 26, 2016
I wonder what it would take to stop fans using homophobic slurs. $50K fine per game for their team? $100K? Points docked?— Geoff Lepper (@quakesbeat) June 26, 2016
@robertjonas and if anyone is offended by it, maybe they shouldn't watch soccer on TV or go to games.— Paul Spacey (@PaulJSpacey) June 26, 2016
@robertjonas im sorry but puto has many meanings— Mike Lebowski (@Mikey8991) June 26, 2016
@robertjonas Sitting next to the LA section, it started when people in crowd took offense to LA fans basically chanting "SJ are putos"— Sharks Fan (@sharksaddict) June 26, 2016
@robertjonas Also, these were not Mexicans chanting in Mexico. Very sad display of ignorance by Americans.— Dan of the Apes (@BeefUrchin) June 26, 2016
Perhaps, with education and encouragement, soccer supporters of all cultural backgrounds in the U.S. can learn to ignore the offensive chant and find more appropriate ways to celebrate the sport they love. After all, the moving scenes in Florida one week earlier, when the Earthquakes game against Orlando City was paused for a minute of play in honor of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings only days before, showed how love and respect can conquer hate and injustice.
It is not too late to end the "Puto!" chant in American soccer once and for all.