To understand Mexico’s collective unconscious, you don’t have to look much further than Televisa, the country’s omnipresent broadcaster. For years, the monopolizing network was the handmaiden of the dominant political party. Watch Televisa for a few hours and you’ll easily understand what Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, the son of the company’s founder and president, meant when he said “we make television for jodidos.” The humor is base, primitive, and often falls back on stereotypical crutches: big chichis, blackface, and fake furs or satirical depictions of queerness, using male characters with effeminate mannerisms. Because in Televisa’s world, the world of Mexican popular culture, if someone acts “gay,” it’s funny.
It’s that mentality that permeates soccer fans in stadiums across the country when the rival team’s goalie kicks the ball and the crowd chants: “Ehhh…puto!” Like flipping on the television, calling your friend who doesn’t want to fight a “puto” is easy. It’s “just how we talk”; it’s “just who we are.”
But it can’t continue.
The fact is that this chant is a slur against gay people, period.
Representatives of the Mexican Soccer Federation have downplayed the insult by putting it in the category of Mexican folklore. When FIFA fined the federation for failing to control its fans from chanting the hateful word at games, Guillermo Cantú, the director of Mexico’s national teams, said: “I don’t think it’s homophobic…We can sit down and talk about it (with FIFA), raise awareness and try to make them see that it is not homophobic. But it is true that it is making a certain group uncomfortable.”
What he did not say is, “We do not support homophobia. We are proud of our own gay athletes, and saying ‘puto’ is not acceptable.”
All of the things he did not say made two players on the Mexican women’s national team vulnerable to attacks. Bianca Sierra and Stephany Mayor have experienced firsthand what happens when ignorance spills out of the bleachers and into real life.
It all began with a photo Sierra posted online, in which she appears alongside Mayor with the caption, “My world.” The simple image unleashed dozens of insults from commenters and threats of violence against the players.
Mayor, proudly wearing no. 10, is one of the best players on the Mexican national team. She has had 55 caps since her debut in 2010. She has played two U-20 World Cups (Chile 2008 and Germany 2010) and also two World Cups – Germany 2011 and Canada 2015. Sierra, also an incredible talent, played alongside Mayor in the U-20 World Cups and was recently transferred to play with Arna-Bjørnar in Norway.
But instead of celebrating their skills and the wins they have brought to El Tri, Mexican fans responded to a declaration of love with hate.
And the puto chant lives on. You could hear it ringing out last Sunday when Mexico played Uruguay in Phoenix during Copa América action.
There is a direct line between each “Ehhh…puto!” and the vitriol directed towards these two Mexican players. Puto is not “just how we talk,” it’s an expression of our culture’s profound and underlying homophobia, which needs to change.
Collective habits aren’t transformed overnight and enforcing laws or imposing heavy fines isn’t enough. The “puto” chant will only stop when Mexican fans feel ashamed of discriminating against not only their opponents, but their own players.