Mexico's soccer fans have brought their chant that's a gay slur to the World Cup in Brazil, using the phrase during the games against Cameroon and Brazil. Anyone watching TV broadcasts also would have heard it during both of Mexico's games.
ESPN says it will try and prevent it from being heard on-air on Monday when Mexico plays Croatia in a crucial Group A game for both teams; kickoff is 4 p.m. EDT. A network spokesman told Outsports that the network is "sensitive" to the chant.
Update: Sensitive or not, ESPN still broadcast audio of the crown chanting "puto" during the Mexico-Croatia game.
¡Puto!," many of Mexico's supporters chant laughingly during goal kicks by the opposing team's goal keeper (see video from a 2013 U.S.-Mexico game for an example). The word is slang for "fag" or "man whore" or "coward." Some say its use in soccer is a cultural phrase that means cowardly and is not directed at gays, but the meaning is clearly designed to mock the opponent as weak and unmanly.
Andres Aradillas-Lopez, an economics professor at Penn State, was born in Mexico and the slur disgusts him, as he told me via email:
"I heard them during the Cameroon game and also today against Brazil. Every single time the opposing goalie had a goal kick they chanted ["puto"]. Every time. I watched both games on ESPN (in English, not ESPN Deportes). I've lived in the U.S. for 15 years, but I was born and bred in Mexico and my family is still there. I know exactly what they mean when they yell that slur.
"The media should make a bigger deal out of this and publicly shame that country and its fans. No other country in the world does this, and it would be unacceptable in any U.S stadium. I am from Mexico and this behavior brings me profound shame. I am not gay but I have always defended equal rights and respect for everyone.
"Yes, the word 'puto' has different meanings, but there is only one interpretation in this particular case which is to question one's manhood. Therefore it is being used as a homophobic slur in this instance, there are no two ways around it. I am sure if you ask any gay man who grew up in Mexico he will find this word deeply offensive and hurtful. Mexican fans argue that they don't use it as a homophobic slur, but it is as nonsensical as Dan Snyder and others claiming that "redskin" is not a slur but a term of 'endearment.' It is the typical response from a bully."
Brazil's fans got into the act during the 0-0 draw with Mexico on Tuesday, with one writer noting, "Brazil supporters trolling Mexico with the 'Puto' chant on every Mexico goal kick."
I reached out to ESPN to see if the network was aware of the chant and got this reply from a spokesman to my questions:
Q: Does ESPN control the crowd noise level at all or is this a feed?
A: "The audio is supplied by FIFA. Our control of the audio level is limited because we do not have specific microphones on the field."
Q: Were people at ESPN aware of the "puto" chant and its meaning?
A: "No. We are now and we will be vigilant to prevent a recurrence of such language being broadcast on our air. We have we also reached out to FIFA."
This has been an issue with Mexico's fans and the chant before, and Spanish TV broadcaster Univision has at times muted the sound of the crowd during opposing goal kicks. ESPN might employ the same tactic since it's apparent when there is about to be a goal kick.
After a player in Major League Soccer was suspended for using a gay slur, the Houston Chronicle noted that "a group of [Houston] Dynamo supporters has embraced the tradition, which originated in Mexico and is common at many MLS stadiums." Our friends at Gay4soccer implored MLS to take action against the use of "puto" in its stadiums, writing that "it's a word that has no place in soccer."
Soccer America's Mike Woitalla noted: "Teams around the world are being punished with fines or stadium closures for racist chants. There have even been fines for booing national anthems. But the rulers of the game -- i.e. FIFA, Concacaf, Femexfut -- seem to have no problem with this homophobic Mexican fan tradition."
CONAPRED, the Mexican federal department charged with eliminating discrimination condemns the use of puta, saying that it "reflects homophobia, sexism and misogyny that still is prevalent in our society."
The use of the word at Mexican soccer matches dates back to only 2003, so claiming this is some hallowed tradition is absurd. It's time that slurs against gays got the same treatment as racist slurs and a good place to start is with the use of "puto".
Update: FIFA will investigate Brazil and Mexico fans for homophobic slurs.