Like everyone else, the people of Mexico must be wondering how America, once the land of the free and the home of the brave, could have let such an emotionally and intellectually stunted bigot into the White House. Though, in fairness, they are probably more concerned with the man’s overt nationalism and well-documented xenophobia than with exactly how or why America lost its way.
Which left me wondering, as I watched the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup soccer tournament, how a people insulted and outraged by the words and actions of El Trumpo can so proudly scream “puto” every chance they get on the world’s stage…the fútbol arena. After all, barking out a homophobic insult is the kind of thing you would expect from a guy like Trump, not the reasonable and loving people of Mexico.
Sports Fan Behavior
For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, let me explain. There is a certain school of thought among sports fans that if you shout something the moment an athlete is about to take an action, then you might be able to influence that action. I guess the idea is that a loud, sudden noise from the crowd might startle the player and cause them to falter. Although it is worth noting that you rarely see such behavior in sports traditionally favored by the elites, such as golf and tennis, where it might actually have some impact, while it has become quite common in traditionally working-class sports.
In soccer, which is the quintessential working-man’s sport everywhere around the world (except, perhaps, here in the United States), this scream-to-startle phenomenon typically occurs during a goal kick, arguably one of the game’s most low-risk moments (though some keepers have done their best to challenge that categorization). And with American fans, it will occasionally take the form of a deep build-up – “ooooooohhhhh” – bursting into a loud cheer – “HEEYYY” – when the keeper kicks the ball. This particular fan ritual originated during kickoffs in American football. And, especially with the long build-up, it is more of a celebration of play getting underway than an attempt to startle the player, in hopes of influencing the game.
A Fool’s Errand
For what it’s worth, I can’t recall this tactic – shouting or cheering something to startle or distract a goalkeeper (or any other player, for that matter) – ever having any discernible effect on a soccer game, here or abroad. For starters, you can’t be startled when you expect it. And even if the keeper were somehow caught off-guard by a sudden burst of noise, flubbing a goal kick isn’t nearly as bad as botching something like a penalty kick.
Frankly, it all seems quite silly to me. The behavior has become commonplace despite having no noticeable impact. But I guess fans want to pretend that they can have some sort of direct influence on the game, like they are helping to contribute to their team’s victory (though I have never seen a fan accepting a similar level of responsibility for their team’s defeat).
Mexican fans already have a history of some of the worst behavior at sporting events. Yes, folks, they invented “the wave.” Or at least they claim to have, at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, though there’s evidence that it has deeper routes in the National Hockey League, and may have first appeared in soccer at the 1984 Olympic final in Los Angeles. I have never understood this behavior, and laying claim to its origin makes about as much sense to me as claiming that you invented herpes.
Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. You go to a game to see the game, right? But that’s kind of hard to do when the portly guy in front of you periodically leaps to his feet and throws his hands in the air, creating a “wave” of fans doing the exact same thing in a “wave” that “travels” around the stadium. Forget the fact that Chicharito is in on goal…these clowns would rather do calisthenics than watch their team play.
Sure, people will argue that it’s all part of the spectacle – that things like the wave energize the fans, and the players. But shouldn’t the game, or one’s love of the game, be enough to energize the fans, and the players? It would have to be a really boring game for me to seek ways to amuse myself and others. If you want a wave, go to an amusement park. Or, better yet, try the ocean. I hear they are really big there.
The Puto Chant
The wave aside, Mexican soccer fans have set another precedent for bad behavior. They are responsible for the aforementioned scourge known as the “puto” chant. And it’s not really a chant, but rather a word they scream whenever the opposing goalkeeper takes a goal kick. I’ll deal with the meaning, and the various attempts to defend the term, in a moment, but suffice it to say that it is considered – and largely intended – to be a homophobic insult.
In fairness, this doesn’t compare with the overt ugliness and violence you often find at games in certain European, South American, and Central American countries. But much of that comes from extremist groups who have latched on to a specific club or national team as a means of identity. And you can usually trace their bad behavior back to racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, and general bigotry within their respective societies. Also, it tends to be a relatively small number of people who are openly expressing such things in and around the stadiums, whereas screaming “puto” is far more widespread phenomenon – often even a family activity.
The screaming of this word has become so rampant among Mexican soccer fans that FIFA has sanctioned the Mexican Federation for it, more than five times. Of course, being FIFA, these fines are nothing more than a slap on the proverbial wrist, designed to do nothing other than help FIFA retain an image long-since destroyed by its own horrific behavior. And yet this disgusting practice continues. It has also spread to other Spanish-speaking fan groups, and even to some gringo wannabes in Major League Soccer.
For it’s part, the Mexican Football Federation (which governs Mexico’s league and national team) has threatened to physically remove their fans who scream the word during matches played by the Mexican national team. And officials in Russia, where Mexico is currently playing in FIFA’s Confederation Cup, have promised to place monitors in the crowd to help identify fans engaging in racism and other offensive behavior – including the puto chant. Yet Mexican fans clearly engaged in such behavior during their team’s opening match, and FIFA, the Mexican Federation, and the Russians (who are not exactly known for their tolerant behavior, especially when it comes to homosexuality) did nothing about it.
Fortunately, thanks to public pressure, some action was taken in subsequent games, with rumors of a few fan being ejected for the chant (unfounded rumors, it seems, but that was apparently enough to deter the behavior). As a result, Mexican fans seem to have dialed it down a bit, at least for the time being. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end for this ugly, childish behavior, but the real test will come next month, during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which also features the Mexican national team – and their fans.
So What Does Puto Actually Mean?
Getting an accurate translation of puto depends on who you ask. In Mexico, and many Spanish-speaking countries, “puta” is slang for a female prostitute. And puto, in the masculine form, technically refers to a male prostitute. But we’re not talking about a gigolo here. It’s meant to refer to the kind of working stiff that George Michael used to frequently enjoy brief, intimate, paid encounters with in public restroom stalls. To put it in Trumpian terms, it’s kind of like calling someone a “fag for hire.” Definitely a slur.
Puto apologists will make a number of different arguments, as the guilty often do, trying to rationalize their inappropriate behavior. First, they will tell you that it’s not an insult. That it simply refers to a male prostitute. OK, then, is calling someone a whore not an insult? And why are you calling an opposition player a male prostitute, if it’s not meant to insult them in some sort of fashion?
After that fails to hold its ground, they tend to fall back to the argument that the use of the word is commonplace in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking cultures. They will claim that it has become the equivalent of how we use “fucker” here in America, as in “That Fucker!” Which is funny, because now the argument concedes that it is obscene, and an insult, but not necessarily homophobic. After all, anyone can be a fucker. Even you, you fucking fucker!
Others will argue that when they use the word in the context of a sporting event, it means “coward.” And I guess if you are a self-delusional homophobe, you might argue that when you call someone a “fag” that you only really mean that they are a “coward” – which, of course, doubles-down on the insult because you are now implying that someone who engages in homosexual activities is also a coward. But if you truly mean to say coward, then why not just say “cobarde” – coward? Or, if you feel the need to add a little edge, I understand that “pendejo” works just as well, without implying any homophobic undertones. But they don’t use those other words, do they?
It’s like someone trying to defend an expression like “carpet muncher.” That phrase is clearly intended to refer to lesbians in a demeaning manner (though, given modern trends in personal grooming, it hardly seems appropriate these days). Sure, you could say that you are talking about someone who chews on carpeting as some bizarre form of flossing their teeth, but no one is going to believe such nonsense. That’s the kind of half-ass duplicity that has become a staple of the Trump administration.
Others will concede that it is a slur and try to defend it by saying that there are worse things that could be said. The Colombian who manages the Mexican National Team, Juan Carlos Osorio, has offered this lame, hollow excuse. It’s kind of like saying, sure, we threw a bucket of urine on their player, but at least it wasn’t feces.
Despite all these arguments, puto is meant as an insult. And given its cultural context, that insult is meant to be demeaning to both gay men and prostitutes. Which is not only wrong, but totally unnecessary.
The puto chant is also demeaning and insulting to Mexicans, painting them as a homophobic and intolerant people. And it has become a national embarrassment, much like the tweets of Donald Trump.
Is “puto” the best that these fans can come up with? Is that the limit of their creativity? I know that’s how El Trumpo behaves, but aren’t you supposed to be better than that? And what of other fans – Americans and other nationalities – who have eagerly taken up the practice? It’s like a bunch of 13-year-old boys who just learned a dirty word in Spanish and think that saying it is absolutely hysterical.
Look, I have shouted some crazy stuff at soccer games. From “chicken bucket” to “you fucking Philistines,” I am not shy about barking out obscenity-laden rants at the officials, the opposition, and even some of my team’s more slack players. But I never cross the line into ethnic, racial, or sexual slurs. Why would I? It’s a game, after all, and we’re all supposed to be having fun, right? And if I do feel the need to vent my frustration, I would rather do so in a manner that might make someone laugh – not feel insulted, demeaned, oppressed, or threatened.
Hacerse maduro, amigos. Grow up, my friends. Otherwise, you are no better than Trump. And I believe you are.