The following article was published by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass who weighs in on Chicago Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriquez’s decision to take to the pitch before Sunday’s game to tell fans they can no longer use a derogatory chant popular in Mexico. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
|Fans chant for their team|
My favorite team, the Chicago Fire, isn't the best soccer club in the world. They're in last place in their league, although they have a chance to get into the finals of the U.S. Open Cup.
Last year I was so depressed, I advocated hiring the Grim Reaper as a mascot. This year, despite the pain, I'm weirdly optimistic about the future.
But I'm not writing today about soccer on the field.
I’m writing about the stellar character of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and its decision to take a stand against an infamous anti-gay chant common among soccer-crazy Mexican fans.
When a business — and the Fire is a business — stands up for honor and principle and against behavior common to a core fan group that buys tickets — that's a story.
The other night at Toyota Park, I was sitting with my sons — both in college and current soccer players — when Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez walked out onto the field alone.
It was "Pride" night. The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus had finished a fine rendition of the national anthem before Sunday's game with the New York Red Bulls.
That's when Rodriguez walked into the center circle and did something the rest of the soccer world doesn't seem able to do.
Soccer fans need to stop with the offensive chants
Soccer fans need to stop with the offensive chants
He looked up into the stands and announced that any fan found to be using the infamous anti-gay Mexican soccer chant would be booted out of the stadium.
"An inappropriate and offensive chant has been used by some of our fans," Rodriguez said. "It is unbecoming and certainly not reflective of the great city that we live in, and the best fans in major league soccer.
"Please be advised that if the chant continues and you are found to be participating, you are subject to removal. If you are near fans using offensive language, please advise stadium security so we can handle that as well."
And all I could say was "bravo."
There were a few boos. But most of us applauded him. And I didn't hear that chant once during the game.
If you know soccer, you know the chant I'm talking about, a chant of one word:
It means effeminate man whore. It is ugly and demeaning, directed at gay men in a macho culture, but at soccer games it is directed at the goalie of the opposing team.
Some apologists insist that it's not an anti-gay chant, per se, and that it's ingrained in Mexican soccer culture.
But a 2015 story about the "puto" chant in SB Nation written by Jim Buzinski explained it best. He interviewed Andres Aradillas-Lopez, a Penn State economics professor who was born and raised in Mexico and is an ardent fan of the Mexican national team.
Aradillas-Lopez is not gay, but he loathes the term and rebuts the apologists this way.
"What they omit to say is that 'puto' has always been a derogatory term used against gay men and, therefore, is a gay slur. In the macho universe, gay men are a subset of the universe of 'putos' (I would like them to tell me why, then, do they not chant 'puta' at women's soccer games)."
If you've watched any soccer involving the Mexican national team, you've heard it coming through on broadcasts. Sometimes 100,000 Mexican fans will scream it, and in games against the U.S. team, they shout it in once voice, at the American goalie, when he punts the ball forward on a goal kick.
It was shouted at other teams as well in the Copa America tournament here this summer. Mexico has a great team. I picked them to win that tournament. They lost, but the nation of Mexico loses face every time the fans shout the term.
The international governing body of soccer, FIFA, has been unable to stop it. But maybe that's because Mexican fans buy tickets, and the sport doesn't want to lose money.
One way to stop it is to penalize the Mexican national team, strip it of points or order the team to play in empty stadiums, without their fans. But that would cost money.
I hate hearing it. I didn't want my wife and kids to hear it when the kids were young soccer players.
I'm not your thought police. If you wish to use such language at home, be my guest. But an organized chant in a public place where I'm paying for a ticket? No thank you.
The Fire have put out public service announcements asking fans to respect each other. But they had had enough. So Nelson Rodriguez took that walk and said his piece.
"This chant is offensive," he told me in an interview at Toyota Park. "It's vulgar, it's inappropriate and it runs contrary I think — even in my short time here — to the spirit of Chicago, which at every turn I just find is warm and welcoming and friendly, and I'm of Latino descent."
The chant, he said, "is not clever or creative, or catchy or appropriate in any way. Yeah, I'm not deaf. I heard a smattering of boos. But that's a very small minority of fans, and I don't care if they don't return. In fact, personally, if they are booing the message as opposed to booing the messenger, go find another team to support."
Rodriguez says there is no victory without honor. He's right.
The Chicago Fire won't always be in last place. And today, they’re champions.