It’s not cultural. It’s not tradition. It’s not a friendly jibe that really just means coward. And it’s not OK.
No matter what anybody tells you, that four-letter P-word – which Yahoo Sports, as a policy, won’t publish – used by Mexico fans once again during Tuesday’s friendly with the United States in Nashville, is deeply homophobic.
And it needs to stop.
We’ve said this before. But it evidently bears repeating, because it isn’t going away. So we need to talk about this again.
Every time an opposing goalkeeper takes a goalkick, especially an American one, it rings out with embarrassing enthusiasm, as it has for the past decade or so since it was first heard consistently.
It became a global issue during the World Cup this summer, when Mexico’s magical upset of defending champion Germany in the opening game – setting Die Mannschaft on a course to a shocking group-stage elimination – was blighted by the repeated chants.
During World Cup qualifying alone, Mexico was fined no less than 12 times for the chant. But the fines were small and made no impact at all. Not even the threat of expulsion from games has made fans quit the chant at last. Nor did a campaign by Mexico’s stars pleading with fans to stop it, even though several players’ request was half-hearted at best, undermined by belief stated by some that they see no problem with it.
It was all to no avail, as it turns out. The chant is still here. And FIFA has really only made perfunctory attempts to act against this. Its interest appears tepid.
Hearing the chant several times during Tuesday’s mostly unwatchable, briefly feisty 1-0 dud was jarring. Perhaps because during the World Cup and at plenty of games before it, TV broadcasters have taken pains to mute it. Technologically, it’s apparently not that hard. Yet ESPN failed to.
While the responsibility for policing fan behavior certainly doesn’t fall on broadcasters, they can nevertheless play a significant role here. If the Mexican federation can’t or won’t act. If FIFA refuses to crack down on outright hate speech while freaking out about political symbolism at the World Cup perhaps it’s up to the TV rights-holders to address the problem.
It’s hard to remember now, but there really was a time when this wasn’t a problem. The chant came along, and therefore it can be eradicated again. There’s a precedent here, in fact. For years, Major League Soccer fans in the hardcore supporters’ section regaled opposing goalkeepers with a hearty “You suck, a******.”
It embarrassed the league and its clubs and plenty of its fans. So the league made a concerted push to rid itself of it through a range of efforts. Crucially, broadcasters turned off the stadium noise during goal kicks. Slowly, the chant became uncool. Eventually, it was forgotten. It took a few years, but you don’t hear it anymore.
Editing the chant out of broadcasts limits its reach significantly. If only the people in the stadium can hear it, eventually, only a small minority of Mexico fans will know that it’s still a thing. Certainly, they might be reacquainted with it when they go to games, but the critical mass of chanters will gradually recede. Until, eventually, it goes away.
The other slow, painstaking approach is to continue spreading awareness, as groups like Mexico’s stateside fan group Pancho Villa’s Army have done. But that’s an even longer game.
The chief weapon now, in the interim, is to get ESPN and its broadcasting brethren to hit the mute button, as a policy, when the chant is heard. That isn’t too much to ask. And you might even say that it’s neglectful not to, no matter how imperfect it is as a solution, and how unusual for a media outlet to have to intervene in the story to cleanse it somehow.
Plainly, it can be done. Because whether intentionally or not, by the end of the U.S.-Mexico game, it was an awful lot harder to hear the chant than it was in the early going. It sounded an awful lot like somebody turned down the volume on the microphones pointed at the crowds.
It starts there. Because any means to rid soccer of one of its ugliest habits is justified. And maybe someday we can stop writing the same column over and over again.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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