SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
After major tournaments were suspended last summer because of the pandemic, international soccer is back - but not without some problems. Last Sunday, the U.S. men's national soccer team faced off against arch rivals Mexico for the first time in almost two years. The match played in Denver was a total thriller. The U.S. beat Mexico in overtime to claim the first-ever CONCACAF Nations League title. But the game was marred when Mexican fans targeted the U.S. goalkeeper with a slur.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: It's a PSA - part of the CONCACAF's three-step anti-discrimination protocol, the campaign of What's Wrong is Wrong to try and end this regrettable homophobic chant. You can see how exasperated the Mexican players are.
DETROW: We're not going to hear the chant. It's a slur directed at gay men. Games involving Mexico have had a long history of fans yelling it at opposing teams, and now CONCACAF is cracking down.
Joining me to explain is Herculez Gomez. He's a former U.S. men's national team player and co-host of "Futbol Americas" on ESPN Plus.
HERCULEZ GOMEZ: Thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me.
DETROW: You know, it was probably the best soccer game American team fans have seen in years and years. But there was this really serious problem, and let's talk about it. So CONCACAF, which is the governing body for the Caribbean and for North and Central American soccer, has a new anti-discrimination protocol in place. Tell us what it is and how it's supposed to work.
GOMEZ: So this new protocol - anytime they hear the chant, the referee, at his discretion, can stop the game for the first time. The PA comes on. They announce that an anti-discriminatory protocol is being activated. They stop the game for, I believe, three minutes. The second time, they actually get the teams together and go off the field for about 10 minutes. Third time, the game's over, and it should be played the next day. It's, quite frankly, laughable. It does them no harm. And nothing will come of it until they actually dock points, until they actually penalize them where it'll hurt. The fan base seems to think this is, to us, not derogatory, to us, not homophobic, so it doesn't matter. You don't get to choose the weight the word carries or who it insults or how it insults them. It sometimes seems, try to penalize or try to tell them not to, we will go louder; we will go harder.
DETROW: That's interesting that you feel like it's not going far enough right now because, you know, to me, the idea of stopping play seems like this huge penalty. It seems like a huge disruption for the game. But you're saying that's not being taken seriously enough by the fans in the stands. They're not viewing that as a real consequence.
GOMEZ: Correct. So we saw both stoppages around the 89th through 93rd minute in both games. This doesn't mean these chants aren't going on Minute 3, Minute 7, Minute 67. It just means they've decided to stop the game there, where the game's almost pretty much over. There's nothing to play for. I was contacted and notified by CONCACAF that that's when it was heard the loudest, that they faintly heard the chant a few times before. So it's like, hey, faint homophobia is OK as long as it's not loud homophobia. So it's, quite frankly, at times disheartening because I'm Mexican American myself, and the mentality of I don't care what trouble or what problem this word causes you or the weight of it because it doesn't affect me - I'm dumbfounded by it.
DETROW: So let me ask you about that, though. You played on the U.S. men's national team. You played in the Mexican league. How did it make you feel? How did it make your teammates feel when you were on the pitch and you heard this chant coming?
GOMEZ: I don't think you think too much of it as a competitor because you're trying to be in the moment. But I can tell you from speaking to these players now that they see they can themselves, as a team, be seriously hampered by it going forward, of course, it bothers them.
DETROW: So international soccer does not, you know, have a really great track record of doing the right thing to put it...
DETROW: ...Kind of mildly. How far away do you think things are from actually docking points, from actually making teams forfeit games?
GOMEZ: Unless we have Fan ID like we had in the World Cup in 2018 in Russia - so each fan is accounted for and they know how accountable they are - this isn't going anywhere. Unless you suspend, dock points, hurt them in a way where the fanbase realizes it's not worth it, nothing will change.
DETROW: So let me end with this, then, because throughout this conversation, you've been saying a big problem is fans do not think this is a big deal, and the more they're cracked down on, the more they dig in on that position. What would you say directly to anybody listening who has that view?
GOMEZ: I mean, if you wouldn't say it at work, if you wouldn't say it to your mother, don't say it here. I know we're getting into this - well, everything's just P.C. now; nobody can say anything. Well, this isn't saying something like, well, you're borderline un-P.C. No, this is straight homophobia. And if you don't see that, you need a reality check.
DETROW: Herculez Gomez, former professional player and co-host of "Futbol Americas" on ESPN Plus.
GOMEZ: Appreciate it, Scott.
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