Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Mexican soccer chant poses a Sacramento problem

This is a story about soccer, but its really about one word – a vulgarity in Spanish that can be a gay slur or a chant at soccer games in Mexico that has infiltrated sellout crowds here in Sacramento.

It’s a four-letter word starting with “P” and no I can’t spell it out, because this is a family newspaper. But yes, it can be a gay slur. It is also a favored Mexican vulgarity with no sexual connotation and a soccer chant many fans say isn’t homophobic.

When used in Mexico, the word hasn’t caused a problem – not yet anyway.

But at the games of Sacramento Republic FC, the capital’s new minor league soccer franchise? As they say in Spanish, it’s a problema.

It’s worrying because Republic games have been a smash success this summer. Sacramento is on the map to get a Major League Soccer franchise because of the passion this region shows for “the beautiful game.”

Today, bars and restaurants will be packed to see the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. They’ve been packed for a month, especially for World Cup games featuring the United States or Mexico. When the U.S. played Germany, the ratings in Sacramento were the third-highest of any market in the nation.

And the ethos of Sacramento’s new team – that the capital is a republic where diverse people come together under one banner – has been inspired.

But then there is that word. It surfaced at the first Republic home game on April 26, when the team was playing at Hughes Stadium before moving to Bonney Field at the Cal Expo fairgrounds.

The tradition in Mexico goes like this: As the opposing team’s goalie lines up to kick the ball downfield, the crowd rises and chants, “Aaaahhhhhhhhh,” as he runs toward the ball.

When his foot makes impact, they scream: “P---!”

I was in the crowd on April 26 and I have to admit I laughed when some young people did the chant behind me.

It reminded me of how my Mexican dad and his Spanish and Argentine friends used to conjugate the word in hysterical, vulgar ways that had nothing to do with sexual orientation.

With a smile on my face, I turned to look at the young boys who did the chant behind me, but their smiles disappeared as our eyes met.

They acted like they had been caught doing something naughty. They were immigrant kids and the chant was clearly a tradition they had brought with them, though one look from me reminded them they were in a different country now.

Therein lies the problem.

The chant really has no place here because it can be taken as a gay slur and has been by fans attending Republic games.

“I noticed it in the first half (of the April 26 game),” said Brian Trainer, a member of the Tower Bridge Battalion, the Republic’s boisterous fan group. “It spread and spread and the guy on my left was getting upset. To him, it was a problem. There were even arguments in the crowd – ‘No, it means this. No it means that.’ ”

Tower Bridge Battalion members began to receive emails of protest from other fans.

The TBB happily accepted an invitation to march in the Sacramento Pride Parade, the massive festival on Capitol Mall celebrating gay rights. But some called them hypocrites because of the chant.

They had been admonished by the Republic behind closed doors to try to stop the chant, and it all came to a head last week when the TBB posted a photo on its Facebook page of a rainbow flag and a declaration that the chant had no place in its ranks.

“It’s not what we stand for, and we want to make that clear,” said RJ Cooper, one of the leaders of the TBB.

The post triggered a spirited debate where Latino fans – men and women – strongly defended their use of the word.

Before you judge them as homophobes, stop for a minute. When I looked up the word online, Wikipedia offered this warning: “Idiomatic expressions, particularly profanity, are not always directly translatable into other languages, and so most of the English translations offered in this article are very rough and most likely do not reflect the full meaning of the expression they intend to translate.”

Some Latino fans correctly point out that same-sex marriage was legalized in Mexico City long before it was in California. Mexican soccer fans rightly questioned why they were investigated for using the chant at the World Cup in Brazil by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body that already awarded the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar – nations openly hostile to gay people.

“The game is engraved in people’s blood,” said Luis Huerta, a 21-year-old Republic fan raised in Sacramento but born in Mexico City.

“People feel empowered by their emotions and not by the logic that they are offending people. … But when I first heard the chant here, I knew it was going to be a problem.”

Last week, some Republic fans booed those who did the chant, but Huerta and other fans don’t want that to continue. “We can’t boo our own crowd,” Huerta said. “We have to bring them under one tent.”

TBB members have decided to come up with a new chant to supplant the offending one and hope it catches on. They want to do it without making anyone feel they unwelcome at games – which would defeat the idea of a united republic.

“We don’t want people to stop going to games illogically or irrationally,” Huerta said. “ If we can educate the crowds and the team itself, everyone can adapt to the big goal of an MLS team in Sacramento.”

An even greater goal would be people getting along respectfully and finding a new chant without ostracizing anyone. It can be done in this republic.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee