This is part 3 in BurgundyWave.com’s coverage of the word ‘puto’, which was yelled from the stands at opposing goalkeepers at the end of the 2016 season and during the playoffs.
For part 1, an op-ed by BWave writer Matt Perry, click here.
For part 2, an extensive article about the linguistic, cultural, interpersonal, and practical implications of the word, click here.
This article is meant to address the question of if, and how, to take action regarding the word.
Option 1: Do Nothing
The first option is for all interested parties; FIFA, Major League Soccer, the Colorado Rapids, and Centennial 38; is to do nothing.
This option telegraphs several possible intentions. First, it implies that there is no problem with the word: that it is either not an offensive anti-gay slur, or, short of that, that if it is a swear word, it isn’t a problematic swear word, and everyone is ok if a few hundred people scream that out at a soccer game. Second, the ‘do nothing’ model may imply that the parties listed above will not take action because it is not perceived to be their responsibility.
FIFA and MLS could either claim it isn’t offensive or that it’s a local responsibility to police. The Rapids and C38 could contend that it either isn’t offensive or problematic, or that, without clear guidelines and direction from above, they will not take action themselves. All of these, I think, are legitimate responses.
Perhaps things were treated differently because that was an international match, and at DSGP, we’re talking about club soccer. But that’s illogical, since the act isn’t one of nationalism or racism directed towards a country, but rather a term that, while yelled at the GK, affects and influences the fans in the stadium. Whether the match is international or club shouldn’t matter.
So at this stage, the ‘do nothing’ option seems like it courts disaster: we’re just waiting here in the US for some of our local fans, be it at DSGP or in Carson or Atlanta, to just yell ‘puto!’ loudly enough for FIFA to fine us. That seems like a bad idea to me.
Option 2: FIFA fines MLS
This would be the inevitable result of the league continuing to turn a blind eye to the shouts of ‘puto.’ FIFA will either be consistent on this issue: that ‘puto’ may not be shouted by fans at soccer matches; or they’ll back down, stop fining for use of ‘puto’ and hope this goes away.
Maybe FIFA’s afraid of MLS, and of offending the North American market. On the other hand, after the US Department of Justice helped to indict sixteen FIFA officials for racketeering and corruption, maybe FIFA has no love for the US and is just waiting to pounce.
Nonetheless, waiting for FIFA to come in and regulate seems like a really bad idea. It would be a PR black-eye for MLS. A FIFA fine would result in a need for MLS to handle the situation league-wide, and likely in a heavy-handed and possibly damaging manner. Waiting for FIFA to wade into the matter is probably a bad idea for all parties involved.
Option 3: MLS creates and enforces regulations to ban the puto chant
As mentioned in my last article, MLS’ ‘Don’t Cross the Line’ implies that bigoted behaviors are not tolerated by MLS. The language of ‘Don’t Cross the Line’ doesn’t clarify whether ‘puto’ is specifically considered ‘crossing the line’.
Don Garber and MLS could take the step of saying that the ‘puto’ chant is unaccetable, either because it is offensive, or profane, and that fans who chant it will be sanctioned.
There are a variety of sanctions that could be imposed. MLS could merely issue an audio-visual statement preceding matches, informing fans that profane, racist, sexist, or homophobic chants are not permitted at MLS matches. Another option: MLS could fine stadiums $10,000 for every game the chant is heard, thereby throwing the onus of responsibility for eliminating the chant on individual teams.
Personally, my favorite idea is for MLS to permit PRO officials to issue up to one yellow card per game to a team in the event their home fans chant ‘puto’. The official would approach the team’s coach and ask who to apply it to. I like this option, because I imagine ‘puto’ getting yelled out of section 117, a yellow getting issued, and Pablo Mastroeni marching down to the south stands, taking the capo stand, and losing his effing mind at the collected members of our supporters’ group for hurting the team. I imagine the chastened fans silently looking ashamed, staring into their beers, and never using the term ‘puto’ again.
And yes, I have considered and discussed the possiblity of so-called ‘false flag’ operations: that a couple RSL fans would come on down to c38 and yell it out, hoping to get the Rapids a yellow in a critical Rocky Mountain Cup match. I think that unlikely because 1) there wouldn’t be enough people to make noise, and 2) once our fans figured it out, the false-flagsters would catch a hell of a beating from actual Rapids fans, who will certainly figure out that four drunk dude-bros yelling ‘puto’ have never before been seen in section 117.
This option, regardless of how it would be implemented, acknowledges that puto is a problem, that the problem is league wide, and that it needs a punishment to be rectified. All of those details might be unpopular or embarrassing. Which is why it might not happen, although I think a lot of people would prefer a league-wide solution to the problem.
We reached out to MLS for this article, looking for a comment on the issues around the ‘puto’ chant. MLS did not respond to our inquiry.
Option 4: Have the Rapids address the problem
In lieu of the entire league enforcing a policy, the Rapids could enforce a ‘no-puto’ policy. The Rapids could caution the entire stadium with an announcement before matches regarding the chant. They could also take the stricter step of policing the section in which it is most prevalent, and having ushers eject fans that yell ‘puto’.
This is probably an unpopular and unlikely solution. The Rapids primary interests are to generate profit and win soccer matches. Serving as a moral arbiter in conflict over a possibly-offensive word doesn’t tick either of those boxes. There’s, like, zero incentive for the Rapids to step in and do something unless they get pressure.
But if the Rapids were pressured by people they listen to; people that spend their money on the Rapids; it might happen. If all those soccer moms and dads called the Rapids about the vile words their little Johnny and Sue heard at the soccer game; if local LGBT organizations made a fuss or considered a boycott; the Rapids would be compelled to act.
Option 5: Have Centennial 38 address the problem
The chant has primarily emanated from section 117, the stand of the official Rapids supporters’ groups. That means that it is a problem that C38 itself has special power to address.
Some MLS supporters’ groups make being anti-homophobia a core part of their mission statements. Notable examples of this are Seattle’s Gorilla FC and the Philadelphia Union’s Sons of Ben SG. Under the ‘etiquette’ section on SOBs website, it reads:
3. Be Smart:
Have a great time before and during the match but don’t overdo it. If you can’t handle your alcohol, don’t have any. If you can’t express your anger at the referee, opposing players or opposing supporters without using violent, sexist, racist or homophobic speech and gestures, then don’t open your mouth. Better yet, don’t come to a match, away trip or watch party because that kind of hate isn’t welcome in The River End, at our watch parties, Sons of Ben events or on social media. Use it and you’ll be ejected and potentially banned.
The Rapids two supporters’ groups, Centennial 38 and Bulldog SG, have no such language on their websites. In speaking with those involved with Bulldog, though, I know that the group has internally declared that offensive, sexist, racist, or homophobic chants are not tolerated. Additionally, in my experience, the one place at DSGP that you can discernibly hear ‘puto’ yelled is from C38’s section.
Thankfully, it sounds like C38 recognizes the issue and is addressing it. Here is an official statement from C38 regarding ‘puto’, sent to us this week:
We've put a plan into place to direct new chants from the capo stand during goal kicks in 2017. The puto chant is one that we've kept off the capo stand for years and this year our capos will be more proactive in working to eliminate it. In addition, we've worked with several cultural leaders within our group to help remove it from coming up from within the section organically. This will play a bigger role as on those limited occasions when the chant comes up in our sections, it's from the crowd. This is usually from new folks that aren't aware of the perceived meaning. This two-pronged approach should take care of it as it was pretty much eradicated up until recently when it started to pop on once in a while throughout different stadium sections and sometimes our own.
If that strategy does not work to eradicate the chant with something more our own, we have a contingency plan ready to go which takes a broader approach.
This is welcome news. Having C38 self-police and take ownership of the problem is probably the best and healthiest solution, because of how it would be perceived: C38 recognized a problem, and solved it themselves, without any punishment or browbeating needed. I would be very proud and impressed with C38 if they succeeded in this endeavor. I would further add that C38 can and should add language to their website to discourage sexism, homophobia, racism, or offensive speech from its members.
Supporters’ groups are one of the best things about soccer. When they exemplify the best aspects of human nature: brotherhood and sisterhood, rather than intolerance and small-mindedness, they have the potential of serving as fantastic ambassadors for the beautiful game.
Option 6: The grassroots solution
If many non-SG members of Rapids fandom are unhappy with ‘puto’, then let’s make that known. If a vocal section of the stadium yells out ‘puto’, then Rapids fan at-large should boo it. Loudly.
In order to get that to work, it would need to be coordinated and made obvious that that was what was gonna happen. Four or five folks, handing out handbills, that instruct folks to ‘boo’ in the event of puto, would probably do it. I’m happy to volunteer if necessary. There’s a copier at work that really needs a good workout.
I’m opposed to puto, personally, for all of the reasons mentioned in the article last week: it’s uncreative, it is not conducive to family-friendly environment, and most importantly, it is offensive to the LGBT community. I recognize that the intent may not be to offend. But it offends. So it should stop.
I love all my fellow Rapids fans, and nothing brings me greater joy than uniting in burgundy behind our team. But it pains me when the fans are engaged in something hurtful and divisive. Lets hope we in Colorado can address this problem before MLS will have to.