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LAFC match tainted by some fans chanting ‘puto,’ and gay fans want answers

LAFC has embraced the LGBTQ community, yet until now chose to remain silent on this latest chant.

Los Angeles Galaxy v Los Angeles FC
Pride Republic is a group of LGBTQ fans of LAFC, some of whom heard the ‘puto’ chant last week. They were disappointed by the chant and by the club’s lack of response. Here a fan shows affection for the crosstown LA Galaxy.
Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

The people at LAFC, and across Major League Soccer, wish the “puto” chant would go away, and they’re trying to get there. Originating from soccer fans in Mexico, the homophobic chant that’s banned by the league and FIFA has popped up from time to time across MLS.

Both the club and the league have done extensive outreach to the LGBTQ community, in addition to implementing policies to curb and ultimately stop the use of the homophobic chant.

The league’s had two active out gay players — Robbie Rogers and Collin Martin. Many LGBTQ fans of MLS consider it the most welcoming of all the major men’s pro leagues in North America.

For the last couple of seasons, at Banc Of California Stadium in Los Angeles, policies and protocols have succeeded in keeping the chant out of matches, as it reportedly hasn’t been heard at an LAFC match since the 2018 playoffs. In fact, LAFC has been so successful that a spokesman said other soccer clubs and organizations have contacted them to understand the policies and protocols that helped put an end to the slurs.

Yet last week, those policies failed.

In LAFC’s final home match of the season — at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps — many fans in the south end of the stadium chanted “puto” at least three times. It all occurred, according to reports, in the final 11 minutes of the match.

It didn’t involve the entire stadium. In fact, some of the stadium never heard the chant. Yet it was enough to sound quite loud to many and upset a whole bunch of fans.

Despite all of the efforts of LAFC and MLS, after a three-year absence, the “puto” chant has come back again.

The ‘puto’ chant returns to Banc of California Stadium

Video shared on Twitter of just part of the south end shows at least 50 different people chanting “puto” as the goalkeeper for the Whitecaps, Maxime Crépeau, lined up for a kick.

Fans at the game who spoke to Outsports said it could be heard at least halfway through the stadium. As the match was nearing its end, the crowd was loud and the chant didn’t seem to carry to the opposite end of the stadium.

Yet some fans who heard it — and other LGBTQ fans who heard that this had happened — were left wondering why set protocols weren’t followed by a team that has so clearly embraced them over the last few years, and why that same club hasn’t said a word since.

Stopping the ‘puto’ chant

In reality, there’s nothing the league or the club can do to stop someone intent on chanting the slur from doing it. Clubs can message and try to convince people to not do it, but there’s nothing actually stopping people.

The question is, what to do about it when it pops up.

When the chant does appear, there is a three-step strategy created by FIFA and endorsed by MLS that should have led to an in-stadium announcement and possible stoppage of the match. When the chant appeared at the MLS All-Star Game against the Liga MX All-Stars earlier this season, this protocol was followed.

When the chant was repeatedly heard in Banc of California Stadium last Tuesday, nothing was done publicly. That has led to consternation by some LGBTQ fans of LAFC.

One gay fan in earshot was Luke Klipp, who runs an LAFC-facing Twitter account. Klipp was so disappointed by the chant and the lack of response from the the club and the stadium that he left before the end-of-season celebration.

“I’m not in the mood to stay here for the end of season celebration when hundreds of fans can freely wield homophobic chants without even a single PA announcement,” Klipp tweeted. “Nothing. What a crappy way to finish at home.”

Klipp said he received text messages almost as soon as the chant occurred.

Despite Klipp’s tweets, among others on social media expressing disappointment with the response from the club that night, LAFC chose to not respond or in any way draw attention to the situation.

“It’s something we’ve been handling internally,” Burton told Outsports this week. “We plan on fixing the issue internally and offering more education for our security and our fans and a big powerful push going into the next season.”

The club’s silence, and its decision to try to keep the entire incident “internal,” was not lost on Klipp.

“It would be nice to see something from the team saying we heard this, we saw it, we’re going to do something,” he said. “But there’s been nothing.”

Now the club and MLS are digging into where the breakdown occurred. It’s clear no one at LAFC wants this happening again, and lessons learned here can help avoid late-match mistakes in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

A loud stadium at the end of a match

The chant that night was loud, no doubt, with one observer saying it was the loudest “puto” chant they’ve heard at a soccer match.

Yet in the waning minutes of the match and fan engagement high, fans, players and staff in or near the north end of the stadium had no idea it had happened, given the songs and chants that were happening there, led in part by The 3252 — The fan group with direct connections to the club.

“Once you’re by the north end and you’re singing and chanting, you really can’t hear anything else, certainly not from the south end,” said Javier Angulo, a member of Pride Republic, the LGBTQ fan group for LAFC. “And that’s part of the reason we have the north end and song and chants, so we can take control of the stadium.”

It’s also one of the reasons Pride Republic has pushed to become part of The 3252, as they know that area of the stadium is a safe space for LGBTQ fans who may not feel as safe in other areas.

Halfway down the stadium, LAFC fan Len Lanzi told Outsports he did not hear the chant, but his husband did.

“It was heard,” Burton said. “Security was alerted. Everything was ready to go. And then as they were trying to confirm it, in that process, it got to where there wasn’t the final confirmation and then the match ended.

“That’s where the breakdown was, the communication wasn’t fast enough.”

The most heated minutes of a close match

Another element was the timing — It all happened in the final minutes of the match, with the first occurrence reportedly coming in the 83rd minute, and the final moment happening three minutes into four allotted minutes of extra time.

Outsports has viewed the TSN Canadian broadcast, and at least the first and third instances were audible over the broadcast.

Burton said staff were preparing for a post-match fireworks show and celebration, and there may have been a breakdown due to the final preparations for the match’s conclusion — Again, it was also the club’s final home match of the season.

“I think the timing of it, unfortunately, happened at the end of the game,” Burton said. “There’s a lot going on and it probably came into play. It probably shouldn't have.”

That reasoning does not sit well with some gay fans looking for answers.

Ryan Mendoza is a gay fan, and partner of Angulo, who was there that night. Mendoza said these chants often happen when tensions are most high, and that can often be toward the end of a match.

“It seems to me like in those moments when the crowd gets frustrated and desperate, things start unraveling,” Ryan said. “The club needs to anticipate this. Read the crowd and anticipate this before it develops.”

Still, those two elements — the atmosphere and the timing — combined to create some doubt about whether the protocol should be followed. Someone ultimately decided it was too late in the game, and the match ended with no response from the club. As mentioned, the club has chosen to not respond to any of it until now.

“We regret there was not an announcement when it occurred,” Burton said. “There should have been an announcement at that time.”

Where do MLS and LAFC go from here?

While its use may be declining, the “puto” chant clearly hasn’t disappeared just yet.

Mexico fans were banned from the stadium for a Mexican National Team match earlier this year specifically for refusing to stop the chant. For the first match they were allowed to watch, some of them chanted the slur again. Now they’re banned for two more matches.

For some fans, even empty stadiums aren’t curbing the chant.

MLS isn’t going to take this drastic measure. At this point, there isn’t a need — These incidents in MLS at this point seem to be rare. Still, they pop up at some of the worst times — Pride Nights, playoff games, must-win situations.

“It’s going to keep happening until there is some type of repercussion,” Lanzi said.

The club and MLS agree. LAFC said it’s now in the process of reviewing match video to determine the seats where people were chanting “puto.” They will identify the seats and contact the person who had tickets for that game.

If the club is able to determine the identity of the person chanting the slur in the video, they will be banned from the stadium.

“And we’ve already done that in the past,” Burton said.

He also said they will be elevating their efforts to center the club’s support for the LGBTQ community going into the 2022 season. After the chant marred the club’s first playoff match in 2018, they went out of their way in their 2019 season opener to make evident the LGBTQ community was welcome and the club had the community’s back.

“I’m not going to stop going to LAFC game due to this issue,” Lanzi said. The club has earned the benefit of the doubt. And he’s confident they’ll take the actions needed here.