Last night, fans of the Major League Soccer (MLS) club Chicago Fire unveiled a massive banner displaying the rich diversity of the club’s city, supporters and team. The banner featured the Chicago skyline with a backdrop of the rainbow flag with the words “Our City Our Club Our Diversity Our Strength.”
The display is part of a month-long MLS-wide effort by fans affiliated to the Independent Supporters Council to take a stance against racism and bigotry of any kind in recognition of The International Day For the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. Supporters in Vancouver, Washington DC, Kansas City and elsewhere have showed their support by having displays at MLS matches this month and last.
The display put on by the Fire fans last night, however is unique. Never before in MLS or any U.S. professional sports have supporters taken such a visible stance against homophobia. Campaigns and events such as the Pride Cup put on by MLS club Columbus Crew and the It Gets Better Project which is directed at empowering LGBT youth, have had many professional athletes sign on, but an open display produced and put on BY SUPPORTERS is a rare thing indeed. Soccer supporters in other countries, most notably Germany, have made similar displays but this is a first in North America.
There is a long history of homophobia in sports and the issue has been in the headlines recently. Basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah were both fined in the past year for using anti-gay slurs during televised games.
Major League Soccer is no stranger to this type of controversy. Colin Clark, a player for the Houston Dynamo did not play against the Fire last night because he is serving a three game suspension for yelling a homophobic slur at a young ball boy. This incident prompted uproar within the soccer community and was the catalyst for the Fire fans’ display last night.
Imagine2050 contributor Tom Dunmore wrote last year for his soccer culture blog Pitch Invasion, “…English football and world soccer in general still lags behind other sports in taking pro-active strides to make its space feel comfortable for gay players.”
Soccer is no place for homophobia and bigotry. While positive strides have been taken to combat the issue of racism in soccer, especially in countries such as England, homophobia is still a very troubling issue.