Speaking Up and Out in Soccer

By: Ben Willis, Rio Grande Valley FC Toros Goalkeeper and Athlete Ally Ambassador

At a recent game, I heard a player using homophobic language and it stopped me in my tracks. I left with a pit in my stomach, because in the moment I didn’t know what to say or do. I did speak up afterwards, but it didn’t sit well with me that I didn’t do anything in the moment — I wanted to do more, but didn’t know what to say. Instead of just being an advocate on social media, why couldn’t I speak up during a big moment on the field?

Then, I read that a referee in France stopped a second division game because of homophobic chants from the fans. The referee had the courage to stop a professional game because of homophobic words. I want to be that type of advocate. I want to be someone who, no matter the situation or environment, is ready to speak up.

Plain and simple: Homophobic language doesn’t belong in sports, or anywhere. This type of language is hurtful, demeaning and just flat out wrong to use. Whether you use those words playfully or not, they still shouldn’t be used on or off the field.

I get asked, “Why are you an advocate?” and, “Why is this such a big deal to you?” My answer: because everyone deserves to be comfortable in their own skin. The histories of the homophobic words used today are awful, and these words shouldn’t be in anyone’s vocabulary in the first place. The term “fag” or “faggot” referred to the sticks used to set fires for burning people. “Gay” use to mean happy or full of joy; then it moved to a term for homosexual people. In today’s society, people often use this term in derogatory or hurtful way. When these words are used to insult or demean people, it doesn’t matter if they were meant in a discriminatory way or not. They still hurt people. This is about impact, not intent.

Now, let’s get to the big one in soccer: the chant of “PUTO.” This word that translates to “man-whore” and is also a derogatory term for homosexual men. Yes, it has other meanings, but those aren’t the meanings that are being used. Many fan bases use this word while yelling at a goalkeeper who is about to kick a long ball to try and distract him.

Why not use a different word to yell at the goalkeeper? Why use such hurtful terminology? These words that are thrown around like a ball do no good to anyone. All they do is continue to hurt people, whether you realize it or not. So why use it?

This is why I joined Athlete Ally as an Ambassador: I believe all LGBTQ athletes deserve to feel safe and included in sports. Homophobic language has no place in soccer, or anywhere in society.