Last week, I wrote about the most recent outbreak of homophobic chants directed at Chelsea FC and how they’re part of an entrenched tradition of decades-long homophobia within the culture of Premier League fandom. And then, as if to illustrate my point, two days after it was published, yet another hateful chant broke out during Chelsea’s match with Everton.
Honestly, if any article I ever wrote was going to be evergreen, why couldn’t it be the one about the Cubs winning the pennant?
For those keeping score, that makes four such incidents arising from matches involving Chelsea in 2019. The Premier League is trying to fight back through its Kick It Out campaign but as of now, it seems powerless to prevent incidents of mob-inspired bigotry from continuing to tarnish its clubs and fans.
In the process of Googling around to research my article, I happened to come across a decade-old story that might... and I emphasize might... provide a way forward to help combat the proliferation of ignorant behavior like the “Chelsea rent boys” chant. And in a bizarre twist that no one saw coming, that very solution might have taken place in the Yankee Stadium bleachers.
I know. That’s like claiming the best place to find a Grindr match is at a Focus on the Family retreat. In that it sounds completely absurd on the surface but it turns out to be surprisingly effective.
This relates to an incident among Yankee fans from 2010 that somehow flew completely under my baseball nerd/social justice warrior radar. And it has its origins in an almost absurdly over-the-top homophobic tradition that used to pervade Yankee Stadium.
For as long as I can remember, the Yankees have turned their grounds crew’s mid-game infield maintenance into an event by playing “YMCA” and making the crew dance to the chorus. Presumably because it combines the Steinbrenner family’s two favorite pastimes: baseball and the ritual humiliation of the working class.
Unbeknownst to the team, as this was going on, the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures had started their own early 2000s-era tradition surrounding this break in the action. And it was the very definition of repugnant.
While The Village People’s ubiquitous hit played over the PA, the Creatures would seek out unsuspecting fans in their section wearing the opposing team’s jersey or cap — especially if it contained a bright crimson letter B — and get in their face to scream their own lyrics...
“Gay man, get up off your knees
I said gay man, you will catch a disease
I said gay man, don’t touch me please
Because you have got a disease
Gay man, wipe that sperm off your chin
I said gay man, what you do is a sin
I said gay man, I won’t let you in
Because you have got a disease
Why are you gay?
I saw you sucking a D-I-C-K...”
Sure, it was unvarnished hate speech, but at least it was super hacky! And as bad as the lyrics were, the scene in the bleachers was even worse. It looked like what would happen if everyone in the class from the “Jeremy” video got jobs at Manhattan hedge funds:
This went on without much pushback for the better part of the 2000s. Finally, during the 2010 playoffs, Gothamist published a firsthand account of a Twins fan who was subjected to the Creatures’ bullying and that, combined with the above video, finally shone some needed attention on this odious tradition.
What happened next might provide an idea of how to deal with the plague of bigoted chants sweeping the Premier League. After being publicly shamed by the Gothamist article and contacted by GLAAD, the Yankees took action by explicitly instructing bleacher security to “warn fans, before ‘YMCA’ is played, that any type of homophobic abuse ‘will not be tolerated’” and to eject “any fans who take part in this ugly bullying.”
Issuing a proactive zero tolerance policy regarding this chant was a vital step. But just as importantly, at the same time, the Yankees reached out to several prominent Bleacher Creatures and enlisted their help to stamp out the hateful chant once and for all.
Like any “superfan” style fan group with a strong sense of identity, the Bleacher Creatures have several people within their ranks looked upon as de facto leaders. It’s the kind of group where a name like “Bald Vinny” unironically carries gravitas.
According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees called a meeting with some of those leaders, during which “several core Creatures agreed to police their own area and put an end to the tradition.” After emerging from the meeting, an anonymous creature vowed, “It’s all done. All of it. We’re going clean. We didn’t like the way the Bleacher Creatures were being looked at. That’s not us.”
Now, as anyone who has sat in the Yankee Stadium bleachers over the past decade can attest, I’m not about to argue that this transformed that area into a rainbow festooned utopia playing a 24-7 Lizzo soundtrack where fans of all backgrounds can freely debate the merits of Acid Betty vs. Trixie Mattel. The bleachers are still a place where random idiots yell hurtful — and sometimes hateful — things on a regular basis.
But this is the key point: after meeting with the fans and setting down guidelines, the organized “Why are you gay” chant disappeared and hasn’t come back. And that is precisely what the Premier League is trying to make happen with its homophobic chant problems.
It’s good that the league and Kick It Out report such chants to the FA and that certain offenders have been banned from attending future matches. But a combination of proactive security stationed in notoriously rowdy fan sections at matches involving Chelsea or Brighton & Hove Albion and working with influential fans to self-police those same sections could be a big step forward toward consigning “Chelsea rent boys” to the dustbin of history where it so rightly belongs.
And if that sounds a little unrealistic, keep in mind that it worked in one of the most notorious centers of testosterone-laden grown up frat boy rage in all of America. Which goes to show that miracles can happen on 161st Street too.