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Soccer

LAFC’s campaign to stamp out offensive chant works — at least for one match

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29, 2018 - Jimmy Lopez, left, joins fans before the LAFC against the Seattle
Jimmy Lopez, left, joins fans before the LAFC game against the Seattle Sounders in its first game at the brand new Banc of California Stadium on April 29.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Late in the first half of Saturday’s game with the Los Angeles Football Club, Dallas keeper Jimmy Maurer gathered the ball in his hands, swung his right leg forward and …

Silence.

A week earlier, in LAFC’s first game at Banc of California Stadium, many in the crowd accented each of the opponent’s goal kicks with an offensive chant that includes an anti-gay slur. On Saturday the chant was gone.

“That’s really a testament to the culture that LAFC has built, to be a team that is led by fans,” said Javier Angulo, a co-founder of the team’s LGBT fan group Pride Republic. “It’s the rapid-response aspect. The more you allow it to linger, the more difficult it becomes to stamp it out.”

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MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who sat with LAFC owners Tom Penn and Larry Berg at the home opener, was angered by the slur and told the team it needed to stop it. Penn said he and Berg didn’t need convincing.

“The first time it happened, we all looked at each other and said, ‘Oh no,’ ” Penn said. “It’s just not part of what we do. That’s how we’re defining this. It’s just not LAFC.”

Hours after the game the team began organizing a response, one that began with Penn, LAFC’s president, and other officials meeting with representatives of approximately 20 other fans groups.

“We met as a family and it was just nothing but support,” Angulo said. “It was not convincing the folks there the chant was derogatory. Everybody in that room knew it was. The question was how are we going to stamp it out of our stadium.”

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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29, 2018 - Sounders fans chant before the LAFC against the Seattle Sounders
Sounders fans chant before the LAFC game against the Seattle Sounders in the first game at the brand new Banc of California Stadium on April 29.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

So just before Saturday’s kickoff, Penn and team captain Laurent Ciman joined Angulo and Josef Zacher, president of LAFC’s supporters union, at midfield, flanked by two rainbow flags, to tell the crowd that the chant would not be tolerated.

“We’ve got the phase ‘shoulder to shoulder’ stitched into our jerseys,” Penn said. “We felt it was important to literally stand at center pitch shoulder to shoulder … to say there’s no place for this with LAFC.”

The chant, a low, guttural cry that accompanies each goal kick by the opposing keeper, begins with the crowd yelling “eeeeeeeehhh” — stretching the sound out in unison — before shouting a two-syllable anti-gay slur when the goalie strikes the ball. And though the chant is most commonly tied to fans of the Mexican national team, its origin is in dispute.

The tale most often told says it was born during a Mexican league game in the early 2000s when fans of Club Atlas used it to mock Oswaldo Sanchez, the club’s former goalie, after he joined crosstown rival Chivas of Guadalajara. Some dispute that version of events.

But regardless of how it started, the chant has proved difficult to stop. The Mexican national team, which has been fined repeatedly by FIFA over its use, has called on supporters to stop using the chant while CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, launched a multi-pronged campaign against the slur before last summer’s Gold Cup.

Journalist Gustavo Arellano, who has researched the chant, said Liga MX teams have even bribed fan groups with university scholarships and elementary school funding to keep quiet.

Instead the chant, in many places, has gotten louder.

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LAFC stopped it in six days — though not everyone is celebrating that fact.

On social media, critics have taken exception to the team’s hard line, saying it overreacted and claiming cultural bias has caused the offensive word to be misinterpreted as an anti-gay slur when it should really be translated more like “coward.”

Angulo, a Mexican American from Lincoln Heights who is fluent in Spanish, doesn’t buy that.

“That word is a very offensive word, period,” he said. “Whether it’s used against LGBT [people] or used against any member of the community, it is still derogatory and it is still offensive.”

Carlos Vela, LAFC’s star forward and a member of the Mexican national team, delivered the same message after Saturday’s game.

“This cheer isn’t good for anything,” he said in Spanish. “It has to change. Here and everywhere else in the world where they do it.

“The most important thing is to respect everyone. You can enjoy yourself in many ways without insulting people.”

LAFC said its campaign against the chant will continue and fans who use the slur in the future will be subject to removal from its stadium.

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“You can’t declare victory on this kind of thing. It can always come back,” Penn said. “The increased passion of a match will create more of a risk that it comes back. But I’m pleased with the way our fans responded.

“It’s going to take a consistent group effort to just say to people, ‘That’s not us.’ ”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11


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