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If you've watched any of Mexico's matches during this year's World Cup (or really, any game featuring a well-supported Mexican side in recent memory), you've probably heard a fan chant that includes "a homophobic slur."
(Note: I put that phrase in airquotes because it irks me. The word is "puto." Referring to it by way of a euphemism just serves to make it more of a bogeyman.)
The well-known chant is screamed by legions of fans during an opposing squad's goal kick. The word roughly translates to "man-whore" or "faggot" in English. As O.C. Weekly notes, Mexican fan mob mentality is notoriously un-P.C. For instance, Mexican soccer fans famously chanted "Osama! Osama!" when playing the United States in the years following 9/11.
What's the Big Idea?
Many news outlets have covered this story in the past few days. The Christian Science Monitor placed a focus on the push for tolerance in Mexico. They interviewed Alejandro Brito Lemus, director of the Mexican LGBTQ magazine Letra S:
“It’s completely homophobic... The [Mexican] Football Federation and soccer authorities have not done anything to educate fans or raise awareness."
CSM also interviewed other Mexicans who provide counterpoints similar to the ones you see in other articles. They claim "puto" is not meant to be offensive in the goal kick context. An oft-heard argument somewhat fallaciously states that the word is simply meant to imply cowardice and therefore its use, in this context, is not homophobic
NPR's story focuses on the Mexican supporters (and coaches) who find little wrong with the chant. A few of the young men interviewed allege that FIFA unfairly targets Mexico in order to impose Euro-American political correctness on them.
The frenzy around the "puto" chant is reminiscent of a recent event involving Major League Baseball player Yunel Escobar, who wrote "Tu ere maricon" (that last word is another that translates to "faggot") onto his eyeblack in 2012. Escobar, a Cuban, was suspended three games and heavily chided by the American sports media. His response was an apology marked with the caveat that the message was meant to be a joke.
Homophobia, or what most of the western world classifies as homophobia, has quickly risen to taboo levels in places like the United States and for organizations like FIFA. That push toward taboo is much slower in Latin America, where machismo traditions still paint interpretations of male sexuality and masculinity. This is a topic, of course, that transcends sports. Take, for example, the backlash against the Mexican band Molotov during their recent U.S. tour. American advocacy groups and politicians spoke out against the band's lyrics. Their most popular song, fittingly enough, is titled "Puto."
The debate over "puto" places focus on the point where one culture's supposed innocuous vernacular becomes another culture's slur. FIFA will no doubt attempt to take advantage of their position near the top of the greater western cultural hegemony to erase homophobia and other manifestations of hate from their competition. With their position on the periphery of the cultural world order, it's likely that Mexico is going to have to change their chants or else face sanctions on the pitch.
Interpretations of FIFA's justification (or lack thereof) are likely shaped by which side of the field you're on. What do you think?
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