It’s the chant that just won’t stop. “Puto!,” a portion of the crowd at a soccer match chants as the opposing team’s goal keeper kicks the ball in play.
To those chanting the Spanish word, puto is an innocent and playful jibe that’s part of the culture. But to many more people, it’s homophobic, a belittling and demeaning term used to insult and degrade.
We’ve been writing for three years about the use of word by Mexican soccer (and NFL fans) and by other fans in Latin America, and its use continues despite fines from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, and pleas from soccer federations. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has in fact deemed this slur offensive and discriminatory and has said it “should not be tolerated.”
The stubborn refusal of fans to stop using this gay slur is the reason we have selected these fans as Outsports Assholes of the Year for 2017.
The use of gay slurs by fans (and sometimes players) in soccer is not new and not confined to Latin America. A professor wrote an entire paper on “homophobic chanting among English football fans,” for example, while megastar Cristiano Ronaldo was subjected to gay slurs by rival Spanish fans last year.
Anti-gay chants have for decades been almost a rite of passage for soccer fans in the United Kingdom. While efforts there have seemingly reduced their furor, many English fans continue to get in homophobic jibes.
The use of puto has continued unabated at an international level beyond anything we or FIFA saw in 2017, which is why we are recognizing fans who use gay slurs in our year-end awards.
Our attitudes about its use have been formed by Latin American commentators and fans who speak Spanish as a native language and can push back most effectively against the claim that chanting puto is harmless. (And if it is harmless, they why chant it at all?)
The following two points get to the heart of the matter.
Andres Aradillas-Lopez, an economics professor at Penn State who was raised in Mexico and cheers for the Mexican national soccer team:
“’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).
"This defense of the 'puto' chant is as weak as the defense of the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage and not of racism: 'This flag honors my ancestors' or 'This flag was used in the Dukes of Hazard, a lighthearted, fun TV show.' As clear as it is that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism, the word 'puto' stands for a gay slur and the reason, in both cases, is very simple: The person waving that flag or chanting that word does not get to decide the meaning of those symbols. It is the groups who have been VICTIMIZED by those symbols who get to decide.
"And this is not up for debate, not even by the most ardent puto-apologists: almost every gay man in Mexico at one point in their lives has been called 'puto' in an offensive, threatening, derogatory way. This is what makes it a homophobic chant, which is inexplicable in a country that legalized gay marriage even before the United States. It is too sad that this embarrassing chant has become Mexico's most notorious contribution to the world of sports as of late.
"Mexico is not a homophobic country; for some reason soccer fans acquire a mob mentality and start chanting this word like automatons. One-on-one, 99.9% of them would never say it. Nevertheless it HAS to stop."
Pepe Flores, a Mexican journalist:
In the conceptual landscape of soccer, virility is a coveted core value. Coaches tell you to go after the ball "like a man," not to kick "like a girl." Of course: "Don't be a puto and play." This is the defense argument of those who deem the term harmless: that it means cowardice. But they fail to see the backdrop: that being a puto is equated to a lack of courage, a social construct defined by values associated with masculinity. This is reflected in expressions ranging from te faltan huevos [you're missing a pair] to aguántate como los machos [bear it like a man]. As though a woman (who is also "missing a pair") or a gay man (effeminate, by the most archaic stereotype -- again, note the dichotomy) were lacking the virtue of courage. ...
Those who argue that the cry of puto in a stadium is not an act of discrimination per se -- since it doesn't directly curtail anyone's rights -- are correct. But it's no innocent utterance either: puto is, at its core, a pejorative description of homosexuality as undesirable, as a threat (inexplicably) to heterosexuality, as the antithesis of masculinity. I don't deny that it has taken on other meanings, and that it can even be used as a term of endearment ... but here we're talking about its use in a specific context, as a specific act. All else is sidestepping.
Both Aradillas-Lopez and Flores make more detailed arguments that you can read here and here. We will continue to call out fans who chant gay slurs regardless of how they try and justify their use or what country they are from.
Margaret Court: The Australian tennis legend came out strongly against same-sex marriage while equating gay people to Hitler and the devil.
Past Assholes of the Year: