Let's talk about that word: Mexico's soccer team and anti-gay epithets

Mexico's national soccer team just released a campaign titled, loosely, "Together for soccer," (Abrazodos por el fútbol) that includes a video in which players discuss the need to respect everyone in their diverse audience. The need for such a campaign arises because Mexico's fans often chant "eeeh, puto," an anti-gay pejorative in many Spanish-speaking countries. The team was reprimanded by soccer's governing board at the 2014 World Cup for these chants.

Before that World Cup even began, GLAAD's President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis wrote to FIFA's president Sepp Blatter (a letter signed by 25 major U.S. organizations) to take proactive steps to curb anti-gay chants from echoing through the great stadiums of Brazil. The London-based FARE network also has been and continues to be instrumental in calling for action against homophobia. GLAAD also worked to ensure that telecasts on Univision and ESPN addressed the insults. Univision even issued a statement in support of LGBT viewers.

In 2014 FIFA never stepped up, and the chant was heard not only when Mexico played but when other teams did as well. Recently, however, FIFA was fined for allowing anti-LGBT language.

So is this video by the Mexican team (including the popular player Javier “Chicharito” Hernández) a smart PR move, to get ahead of criticism as we head toward the Olympics in Brazil and another World Cup in 2018? It's a welcome move, although a fairly watered down message that never actually says "stop chanting anti-gay slurs" at our games.

GLAAD has been involved in the debate about this word for years now—in the context of soccer but also music and generally in society. And it is a heated debate. Some argue the word is not meant as anti-gay but as a sort of all-purpose insult. We argue that the intention of the person using that word (or a racial insult or an anti-female or anti-semitic or anti-Muslim insult) has little relevance. What matters is the power of that word, not the user's intention. Millions of gay men all over Mexico and Central and Latin America have heard this word all of their lives in an anti-gay context.

The back and forth debate played out in the comments section of an article by Jessica Lopez in Remezcla.

Some people argued essentially, "You're taking the fun out of soccer by being so sensitive." Or "we mean 'coward' when we use it, not anything anti-gay." And finally "You're probably not Mexican and don't understand our sense of humor." But other readers countered by asking, "If a construction worker cat calls you and your daughter and niece for their own entertainment, is that okay?" Another noted that she too once thought of anti-LGBT words as having little meaning, simply because she was so accustomed to hearing them.

We know that regardless of intention, for so many gay and transgender people that word (or ones like it) are the last words they will hear as a fist or a rock comes toward them.

It's time for FIFA and national soccer organizations to really step up. According to one report, the chant was heard just a few nights ago when Mexico played Canada--after the commencement of this campaign. The Mexican team's "lite" message is a good step but needs to be part of a much louder and broader dialogue that finally buries the idea that it's okay to use anti-LGBT terminology anywhere.