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MLS fans, teams should take lead in eliminating homophobic chant

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“Homophobia isn’t on a sliding scale - it’s either hateful and homophobic or it isn’t. This is firmly on the side of being hateful and homophobic.”

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Sporting KC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

There are only a couple of topics in soccer that you’re just asking for trouble by broaching. One of them is promotion and relegation in the United States, the other is a goal kick chant that started in Mexico and has made its way across the border (for reasons that should be obvious, we are not printing a homophobic slur regardless of what language it’s in). The latter is a far more important and urgent matter than discussing complex economic and legal theories, regardless of what a very vocal contingent may have you believe.

First, let me set the stage for this - I’m an American who speaks Spanish as a second language. I do not pretend to understand all of the cultural or linguistic nuances of the Mexican people or Spanish. But I understand it well enough to know what the word is and what it means. It is a euphemism for a male prostitute, with the implication that the prostitute is gay. Certainly there are far more vile epithets in the Spanish language, but homophobia isn’t on a sliding scale - it’s either hateful and homophobic or it isn’t. This is firmly on the side of being hateful and homophobic.

I also watch Mexican soccer, and have since some time in the early 1990’s. This chant has not always been a part of the soccer culture there - it first surfaced some time in the early 2000’s. It wasn’t long before every other team in the Primera Division (the precursor to today’s Liga MX) was doing this cancerous chant for opposing goal kicks. And just like a cancer, this practice has spread to Mexican National Team matches, Ascenso MX (second division) games, and now apparently to Major League Soccer matches.

During the Philadelphia Union’s last match against the Houston Dynamo, we counted nine times that chant was used - and that’s just what was loud enough to get picked up by the television mics. In a league where the "Don’t Cross The Line" campaign is a fixture during every broadcast, the same should not be said about a blatantly homophobic chant.

Houston isn’t the only place you can hear this, unfortunately. A couple weeks ago it could be heard by San Jose Earthquakes fans during the California Clasico against the LA Galaxy. To their credit, the Quakes have come out strongly against the chant, releasing a list of measures they’re taking to combat this. Incidentally, it was also heard this past week in Chicago as the Chicago Fire took on the Earthquakes. Certainly it isn’t all fans in these cities doing it, but enough are doing it that it is audible on television broadcasts and that is problematic.

Now there are people who defend the chant. One of the most common arguments is that other MLS teams do the "You Suck Asshole" chant that came from fans of the United States National Team, but this overlooks that YSA (as it’s commonly referred to) is clearly not homophobic - and even if it was, it wouldn’t make the other chant ok as it would still be homophobic.

Part of the problem is the more that Americans - and American journalists in particular - decry the use of the chant, the more it seems to take hold as an act of defiance. The initial reaction might then be to not talk about it, but that only fosters a culture that tacitly says "This is ok" when it clearly is not. Ignoring it and allowing it to happen won’t make any LGBT soccer fans feel any more at ease attending a match or even watching on television.

Change has to come from within. What the Quakes are doing is a great start, but the real change needs to come from the Supporters’ Groups in places where the teams do this chant. Chivas USA fans did the chant for years, but through the work of their Suporters’ Groups, they were finally able to eradicate it by the 2013 season.

There are also Mexican fans working diligently to try and eradicate the chant. Pancho Villa’s Army, a Mexican National Team Supporter’s Group based in the United States, has come out opposing the use of the chant. And there perhaps is the key to solving this problem - for those of us who are not Mexican and who do not speak Spanish as a first language, we should not only point out those who are in the wrong but vocally support those working to eradicate it.

Certainly there are other things that can be done at the organizational level. FIFA already leveled a fine in excess of $20,000 against the FMF (Mexico’s FA) but more must be done. Games in empty stadiums and docking points in the World Cup Qualifying round would get the attention of the FMF as well as that of the fans.

MLS, the teams where this chant happens, and their Supporters’ Groups also need to do more. Fans who use this chant should be immediately removed from the stadium, and if they’re a member of a Supporter’s Group I believe they should be stripped of their membership - basically the same consequences a fan would suffer for saying an equally offensive word in English. There needs to be consequences - severe consequences - in order to stamp this out. You can’t tell people not to cross the line and have no penalties for when that line is crossed.