A few weekends ago, I attended a Colorado Rapids game. The Rapids were playing D.C. United, who are hardly in competition with the Rapids as far as a team rivalry or playoff spots. One of the D.C. United players wore pink cleats. This inspired much derision and mockery in the supporters section where I stood. Most of these taunts focused on the players’ supposed lack of masculinity, and “gayness,” simply because he was wearing pink cleats. Obviously, the player did not retaliate, but imagine what impression those taunts might have left on casual fans. Would they think that it was ok to shout “harmless” homophobic taunts at players? What about gay fans, would they shrug it off, or would they feel ashamed and hurt, and stop following football?
Major League Soccer fans are hardly as intense as their counterparts in other leagues, so in comparison this taunt is relatively tame. However, the recent teen suicides in the United States cast a darker, and more serious, light on these sorts of “harmless” taunts in sports. Consider that a male teenager, who liked to wear pink, was taunted mercilessly for being gay, even though he was not, killed himself when the taunting became too much. I am not saying that the use of homophobic slurs and taunts at sporting events lead to teen suicides, but they certainly do a disservice to people, both straight and gay alike, who work towards ending homophobia in the sports world. The casual fan might then think it is okay to call a player “gay” or a “fag” for wearing pink cleats, or yell other homophobic slurs at players on the opposing side. This in turn hurts LGBTQ fans and their allies, who do not care what a player does off of the field, as long as he or she brings their best game onto the field.
The homophobic slurs and taunts used in football stands present an interesting paradox when we examine the recent studies done by Staffordshire University, which indicate that most football fans resent the assumption that they are rampantly homophobic. However, these same fans see nothing wrong with taunts that refer to players as “poofs,” “tarts,” and “benders.” According to these fans, these chants do not mean that they are homophobic; to these fans “it’s just stick.” Fans are not arbitrators of right and wrong; according to the study, fans are only concerned with play on the field. If this is the case, then why use the terms “gay,” “fag,” and “poof” in a derogatory manner? It suggests that there is something wrong with being a member of the LGBTQ community.
Of course, there are people who would say I am taking this too seriously, and that I am overanalyzing these taunts. That they do not mean anything, that they are not bullying gay teens and fans. While these taunts may not be intentionally cruel, they are just another roadblock to the fight to end homophobia in sports, and in society in general. How is a gay teen fan supposed to feel when he or she goes to a game and hears these sorts of things? As of now, there are no openly gay football players. Gay fans have no role models to look to out on the field, unless they happen to follow one of the LGBTQ football leagues. How must they feel when they hear their fellow fans taunting players with these slurs? The fans using these taunts may not see it as homophobic, but it is. They may say they are comfortable with gay players and that they are only concerned with what the players do on the field, yet they are willing to cast negative aspersions upon players by calling them “fag”. Fans may say that they would rather have a gay player who can score goals, than a straight player that cannot, but what is a gay fan to think when the opposing team’s striker misses a goal, and the crowd shouts, as they did at the match I attended, “You like to take it up the ass?” The implications are crude and hurtful to gay fans.
Football fans may resent the accusation that they are homophobic. However, to an outsider, to a gay teenager who is afraid of bullying, these taunts do come off as homophobic. Fans should take a moment to consider how these slurs affect other fans around them, and why these slurs would lead outsiders to label them as homophobic. Jeers, taunts, and slurs are a part of football and sports in general, they are meant to get both fans and players riled up and excited, to cause anger and aggravation. I do not expect the nature of taunting to change, but if football fans want to rid themselves of the homophobic stigma, they need to stop using words that are homophobic. Removing homophobic language from the stands is only the first step in removing homophobia from the game, but is a big, and positive, step forward. After all, as the recent teen suicides in the United States have proven, words do hurt.