Many of you will have seen the recent controversy over the ejection of a group of New England Revolution supporters for persisting with the “You suck, asshole!” chant whenever an opposing keeper takes a goal kick.
For the fans involved the real issue is the overbearing way that those ejections were handled by the security staff at the stadium, but for the rest of us it raises the interesting question of what type of language and behaviour is acceptable at a soccer game in North America.
Anybody who has attended a match at any level in Europe (or even watched one on TV) will know that the use of profanity is both endemic and accepted for both the fans and the players.
So does MLS embrace this aspect of the sport or does it try to tailor what it sells to a more family oriented market? At the moment it seems caught between a rock and a hard place.
It is all too keen to use clips of the various supporters groups when promoting the atmosphere and excitement of attending a game, but is then quick to shy away once these same supporters push the boundaries of what is perceived as acceptable behaviour.
Now I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that there is profanity used at any sporting event in North America but soccer is still held to a different standard than the other major sports.
The assumption persists that fans of the beautiful game are always poised on the verge of a breakdown in civil order and must be watched closer than those of other sports (does anybody doubt that if 100,000 soccer fans had gathered in downtown Vancouver the police presence would have been substantially higher than that seen for the recent NHL Stanley Cup games?).
Major League Soccer is now at a fork in the road where it has to choose what it wants to be in ten years time; does it want to be a “family safe” environment that parents can safely take their offspring to but one that fails to capture the imagination of those children who find that they prefer the raucous atmosphere of an NFL or NBA game, or does it become a sport that captivates first time attendees, both young and old, through its passion and it’s energy?
“You suck, asshole!” is a juvenile and lame chant, and nobody wants a whole stadium hurling a constant barrage of profanities from the first whistle to the last, but watching sport is partly about stepping outside the norms of society for a brief period of time and learning that different contexts permit different behaviour.
That, in itself, is a pretty valuable lesson for any child to be taught..
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