For most of his professional career, Robbie Rogers was forced to hide his homosexuality from a sports world he did not feel would be accepting, and for this reason, when he made the courageous decision to come out in 2013, he ultimately decided that this meant he must also retire.
It was a sad story. A talented 25 year old athlete forced to retire, not because of injuries or a lack of desire to play the game, but because he did not feel he would be welcomed in English football.
But, as we all know, this story has a happy ending. Rogers, who by no means lost his love for the game, got a hankering to play again and contacted Bruce Arena about the possibility of training with the Galaxy.
After meeting the players and talking it over with Landon Donovan, Rogers finally felt comfortable coming out of retirement and becoming the first openly gay team sport athlete in this country's history. Integral to his decision was that Rogers had found in the Galaxy a locker room of acceptance and a club culture that would allow him to thrive.
But now in 2015, what was once a cocoon of acceptance that, in part, allowed Robbie Rogers to become the incredible person he is today, is being threatened.
The signing of Giovani dos Santos by the Galaxy has been a tremendous success, both in bringing in more fans, and making the team more representative of the city they play for. As a result of the signing, hundreds if not thousands of first time fans have flocked to Stub Hub Center to see the star Mexican International in person, and while, on the whole, the signing has been a net positive, there has been a certain unsavory element to this influx of fans.
In Mexico, there is a custom of yelling "Puto" when the opposition goalkeeper makes a goal kick, and, while not all new fans are yelling it, it is certainly a chant that is being heard with increasing volume throughout the stadium. The problem, and how all of this relates to Robbie Rogers, is that the chant happens to be a homophobic slur.
There is a lot of debate about the origins of the chant. According to Slate, the chant’s roots are that of a Spanish double entendre. In Spanish, when a player scores a goal, the word meter which translates to "put" is used, as in meter un gol—put in a goal. So when speaking of a keeper who has allowed a goal, it translates to allowed someone to put it in. For this reason, the crude and inflammatory connection to "puto," which roughly translates to male prostitute, is made and chanted at goalkeepers.
Others have claimed the chant can be traced to Guadalajara back in 2003 when former Atlas keeper, Oswaldo Sanchez, returned to the city after a stint with Club America, but to bitter cross town rival Chivas.
Its defenders often take the tactic of pointing to context, stating that, when shouted at a keeper in a game, it is closer to "coward" than anything derogatory towards homosexuals. Most, however, including Conapred, an actual Mexican Government agency, recognize the homophobic nature of the chant—a chant that many Spanish broadcasters censor during live broadcasts due to its offensive nature.
During the 2014 World Cup, FIFA investigated the use of the chant by Mexican fans against Cameroon and eventually cleared the Mexican federation, finding that "the incident in question is not considered insulting in this specific contest," which many have interpreted as FIFA taking the side of the contextual defenders. Of course, this is a rather flimsy argument when you break it down.
For example, when I was in middle school, kids would often use the word "gay" to mean dumb. Now, if a teacher would assign homework over the weekend, the children would call that "gay." Using FIFA logic, such a use would be perfectly fine since the homework itself is not being derided for its sexual orientation in the context of the situation, and thus, "is not considered insulting" to any homosexual children in the classroom that have to hear "gay" equated to something stupid and lesser than, on a daily basis.
At these same South Georgia schools, kids would also wear confederate flag hats to, as they would describe it, "honor their Southern heritage." Now, according to FIFA logic, these hats would "not be considered offensive" to the Black students in the classroom because the white children who are wearing them are not doing so out of racial malice, but rather to honor a sense of romanticized Dixie heritage white washed of the atrocities of slavery.
Andres Aradillas-Lopez, an economics professor at Penn State, makes a rather convincing argument in this outsports podcast, that the interpretation of offense belongs to those who are offended (a principle which clearly applies in both examples above) and states of puto, "nobody can deny that many gay men have been victimized by this word."
In reality, the "context" defense is an argument which comes from a place of privilege and either fails to take into account the feelings of those affected by the chant or simply doesn't care that people are being negatively affected —neither of which are acceptable.
I asked Robbie Rogers how he felt about the arrival of the chant to the Stub Hub Center. While he said that he hadn't heard it yet, (which is not all that surprising considering that chants aren't really something athletes focus on during a game) he didn't seem all that surprised.
"If it is going on in our stadium or any stadium, there's really no place for it. I think the game of football is a beautiful game for people from all different walks of life- different religions, different ethnicities, and sexual orientations, and I think it's just not the place for that kind of stuff."
He went on to say that it's something that MLS should address from an education standpoint. "I think it's probably a tradition," he said. "[The fans] probably don't even realize that they are affecting anyone, so I think just to educate them is important."
Of course, MLS' record on these issues is less than stellar. In fact, the Houston Chronicle blasted the league on this very issue last year, stating:
"MLS...has not curbed or even spoken out against the tradition of fans screaming a vulgar Spanish gay slur each time the opposing goalkeeper takes a goal kick."
MLS also showed little sensitivity to the Gay community when it included Jermaine Jones in its "Don't Cross the Line" umbrella anti-discrimination campaign, despite the fact that when asked by popular sports magazine "Sport-BILD" back in 2004 whether there were gay footballers in the Bundesliga, Jones responded "hopefully not."
But MLS is not the only body that can take action on the matter, and this brings us back to the Galaxy, a club whose culture made Robbie Rogers feel comfortable enough to come out of retirement, a club who prides itself on values of openness and tolerance, a club you'd expect to take action against this kind of behavior.
When contacted for this article, the club informed us that the organization was in the process of forming an education plan around this very issue, the details of which would be announced once they are more fully formed.
Die-hard supporters of the club are also not taking the chants arrival lying down. The Angel City Brigade and LA Riot Squad have both taken action on the matter, and capos from each group have told me that they have made it clear to their members that there is no place for that chant in their sections and have done their best to drown the chant out with their own songs in their respective parts of the stadium.
It is clear that neither club nor established Galaxy fans are happy about the chants arrival and are doing their level best to stamp it out, however, ultimately it is going to be up to the fans who are actually engaged in the chant to reform. Hopefully the Galaxy's education initiative can do some good, but considering the intense backlash by Mexican fans against FIFA during the World Cup investigation, this may not be a battle that is easily won.
As we saw in the debate over the Confederate flag, privilege is not something which is easily dislodged.