On Saturday, June 2, Yankee Stadium played host to NYCFC’s 3-0 victory over Orlando City SC. The night was also the victor’s second-annual Pride Night, celebrating NYCFC’s commitment to the LGBTQ community. And yet, throughout the night, NYCFC fans – largely in and around the standing-room-only, largely-supporters’ group-populated general admission seating in Sections 235-238 – loudly chanted “puto,” a homophobic slur, on goal kicks and similar dead-ball plays throughout the night.
NYCFC’s Pride Night, designed to celebrate the LGBTQ community in concert with June’s LGBTQ Pride Month, came complete with a national anthem sung by the New York City Men’s Gay Chorus’s Tonewall, a Tunnel of Honor comprised of the New York chapter of the Gay Officers Action League, rainbow-colored game paraphernalia (i.e. corner flags and the Captain’s armband), and the central positioning of an exclusive rainbow-themed club scarf in the official shop, among other symbols. On a prosaic level, NYCFC, through its charity organization City in the Community (CITC), contributed to a Play Proud and streetfootballworld-organized auction designed to raise funds for the Play Proud program, a special curriculum for coaches that “allows them to uplift LGBTQ kids who might be in a tough place” and helps them “identify and utilize a young person’s strengths on and off the field.” NYCFC provided the auction with numerous David Villa-signed Pride Night t-shirts and jerseys; as of writing, the auction has raised over $4,000.
“We continue to work hard to ensure our matches are welcoming and inclusive,” Jon Patricof, President of NYCFC, said ahead of the match. “Pride Night on June 2 will be a great opportunity to celebrate soccer, community, and the power of our sport.”
The club did not celebrate Pride Night in a vacuum, as numerous supporters’ groups – including The Third Rail and Hearts of Oak, among others – demonstrated their support for LGBTQ community, procuring and actively waving LGBTQ flags, emblazoned with their respective logos, throughout the match. In addition, members of youth group Saturday Night Lights, an NYCFC-affiliated, Manhattan District Attorney-funded violence prevention and youth development program for 11-18 year-olds, set up 49 rainbow seats in the designated Orlando City supporters’ section, mirroring the permanently-rainbow-colored seats at Orlando City Stadium that honor the 49 victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting.
This is too cool. NYCFC-supported youth group Saturday Night Lights set up 49 rainbow seats in the Orlando City supporters section at Yankee Stadium. #OCSC #NYCvORL #PrideMonth— Jordan Culver (@JordanCulver) June 2, 2018
Update here: https://t.co/eq1mdetcel pic.twitter.com/8PG5q5DZ3W
In a marked departure from the night’s celebration of the LGBTQ community, NYCFC fans chanted “puto” throughout the match, particularly in the second half, when Orlando keeper Joe Bendik was in between the sticks closest to the left field bleachers. Sitting in Section 134, I myself repeatedly heard the chant throughout the match; I have, when standing in the supporters’ sections, heard the chant at previous matches since 2016. Aimed to disrupt the goalkeeper when as he prepares to boot the ball down the field, fans slowly cry “Ehhhh,” rising in volume throughout the keeper’s kicking motion, before screaming “Puto!” as he kicks through the ball. The chant, “a staple in Mexico,” has gained traction in U.S. soccer stadiums in recent years.
“The chant is a very specific, homophobic double-entendre, playing on the concept of letting someone ‘score a goal on you,’” writes Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo, a bi-lingual, Spanish-speaking Univision reporter in Slate, adding that “In Spanish, to score a goal is meter un gol. That translates literally as to put a goal in, so when a goalie fails at his job, he dejó que se la metieran, or allowed someone to stick it in. You see where this is going: The embarrassment of allowing a goal in your net is akin to being on the receiving end of anal sex—you know, like a gay guy.”
Journalists, CONCACAF, and FIFA regularly critique Mexican fans usage of the term at national team matches and international competitions; FIFA has repeatedly imposed fines on Mexico’s soccer federation for its fans continued usage of the cheer. In the MLS, Atlanta United, Los Angeles Galaxy, and Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) supporters have been documented using the term over the last year.
NYCFC fans usage of this chant has been consistent since the club’s founding and is regularly recognized by those fans sitting near the left field bleachers. “Whenever an opposing keeper resumes play with a big boot from the box, the p-word is an utter inevitability in the Bronx,” former Hudson River Blue managing editor Sam Dunn wrote last year. “And the closer you are to the supporters section – where I’ve had season tickets since Year One, Day One – it only gets louder.”
When contacted by Hudson River Blue, a member of NYCFC’s communications staff confirmed that club is aware of the cheer and has taken steps to limit its usage, both by those in the supporters’ sections and throughout the stadium; this staffer indicated that the chant has become less prevalent since 2015.
In May 2015 – two months into NYCFC’s first campaign – Ben Jata of Upper 90 Soccer tweeted that “NYCFC is implementing a zero-tolerance approach for flares and the Puto chant,” adding, “Fans caught doing either will be ejected.” While other clubs – including Atlanta United, LAFC, and the San Jose Earthquakes, among others – have issued statements condemning the chant (“We are extremely disappointed and shocked at the behavior of a portion of our fan base,” the Quakes said), NYCFC has not provided a similar declaration.
While the same member of NYCFC’s communications staff declined to comment on the record on behalf of the club, the individual told Hudson River Blue that the club’s operations staff did not report hearing the chant on June 2, adding that the club did not receive any complaints from fans following the match. This staffer emphasized that NYCFC has, since 2015, successfully taken measures to educate supporters on the term’s offensiveness, positing that these measures have decreased fans’ collective propensity to utilize the chant. The representative provided Hudson River Blue with a panoply of press materials detailing the club’s year-round support for the LGBTQ community.
Supporters group Los Templados did not respond to Hudson River Blue’s request for comment. The Third Rail and Hearts of Oak, however, offered condemnations of the chant.
“I can speak on behalf of all of The Third Rail board when I say The Third Rail continues to believe that the ‘puto’ chant has no place in soccer,” offered Ben Glidden, The Third Rail’s Director of Marketing. “We recognize the puto chant as homophobic, just as major soccer and LGBT advocacy groups do, such as GLAAD, FIFA, MLS, Independent Supporters Council, and continue to strongly discourage its use at matches and events. As an inclusive organization, we advocate and support people of all sexual orientations and work to keep soccer a game for all people.”
Hearts of Oak took a similar stance, deeming the chant offensive and criticizing its users.
“At the New York City FC match against Orlando on June 2, 2018 (Pride Night, to be exact), it is alleged that a particular slur was chanted a few times, especially during the second half,” the group offered. “No members of Hearts of Oak partook in this chant, nor was it coming from section 238. Hearts Of Oak is inclusive and accepting of all [who show the same respect]. Period. For this reason, we consider such a chant obnoxious and unwelcome, and hope any fans who still choose to use it will learn to overcome the hurdles of crass imitation.”
After the match, Blue Balls NYCFC, a leading podcast covering the club, tweeted a list of positives from the match, citing, in all caps, “JON LEWIS” and “THREE POINTS” in addition to “NO NOTICABLE P-CHANT ON PRIDE NIGHT.”
Fans, however, were quick to respond and correct the tweet’s perceived error.
“Heard it right behind me in section 233b,” one fan wrote.
“The P chant was there...Clear as day, trust,” another added.
This article has been updated to include the statements from The Third Rail and Hearts of Oak, both of which were not available upon the original publishing of this article.