Keeping Score

Why Sports Teams Can’t Regulate Speech

Major League Soccer is threatening sanctions for unruly fans. One team is offering a good behavior bonus. Why the meddling might not work.

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Mike Stobe / Getty Images

Fans cheer during the match between the Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Sep. 29, 2012 in Harrison, N.J.

Major League Soccer, the 18-year-old U.S. pro league which has raised its profile in recent years, has some pretty foul-mouthed fans. That hardly makes MLS unique. And if the fans are cursing — at their own team, or at an opponent — at least they’re caring.

But have U.S. soccer fans taken foul language too far?  Supporters of some teams have started a tradition: during goal kicks, they yell “You Suck, A——” at opposing keepers. And MLS teams, and the league front office, are trying to stop it.

Deadspin.com has posted letters that two teams, Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls, have sent to fan groups, threatening sanctions if these fans don’t clean up their language. The letters specifically refer to “You Suck, A——” as the “YSA” chant, which is quite endearing.  “We are focused on fostering a League-wide culture that embraces the passion of our core fans,” reads the Real Salt Lake letter. “That passion, however, must be displayed in a responsible manner that is in accordance with Real Salt Lake and MLS Fan Code of Conduct. Attempts to allow Real Salt Lake supporter clubs (RCB, SCU, La Barra, TRP, and Section 26) to self-eradicate the YSA chant and parts thereof, such as “You Suck … ” — both within groups and throughout the stadium — have regressed since last season.” If behavior doesn’t get better, the team writes, Real Salt Lake and MLS might impose sanctions, which “can include, but are not limited to:”

- No smoke devices, flag poles, banners, or other displays permitted at home or away matches

- Retract parking passes, stadium credentials, and field passes at Rio Tinto Stadium

- Prohibit drums, megaphones, and Capo Stand.

(MORE: Why Soccer Threatens The NHL)

The Red Bulls, according to Sports Illustrated writer Brian Straus, have taken things a step further. Straus reports that the “team has notified its three fan groups — the Empire Supporters Club, the Garden State Ultras and the Viking Army — that $500 will be contributed to each for every home game during which ‘YSA’ isn’t heard in Red Bull Arena’s South Ward. The money will be doled out in $2,000 increments, meaning the stadium will have to be ‘YSA’ free for four games before the supporters are rewarded.”

Straus obtained a messaged sent by the Empire Supporters Club to its members. “We can use this money for reimbursement for nearly anything we do, from buying batteries for the megaphone to offsetting costs for bus trips,” it said.

But hold on: so if I’m a loyal Red Bulls fan who brings my family to games and doesn’t act profane, I don’t get a bonus. But the guys who have been cursing for years are going to get a prize, for acting like people are supposed to act? I’d like money to offset my trip too – the George Washington Bridge toll is 13 bucks these days. I should have been YSA-ing all along.

Meddling in fan speech is tricky. Sure, YSA is stupid. But tribal chants are big in soccer, probably due to the nature of the game. During the long stretches between scoring chances, why not have a sing-along? Or heckle the other team? And compared to some of the racist chants that have plagued European soccer, YSA is rated-PG.

I’d be surprised if the MLS’ efforts, while well-intentioned and understandable, pay off. The letters read like memos from the principal’s office. If you’re paying hard-earned money to go watch a soccer game, do you want to be told what not to say? The threats could inspire a foul-mouthed response, just to get under MLS’ skin. The payments from the Red Bulls are a more attractive incentive, but seem unfair to well-behaved fans.

Maybe fans just need a reminder: if they’re shouting needless profanity in front of families, YSA goes both ways.

(MORE: NFL Arrests Are Rising. Why That’s A Surprise)

14 comments
HarryKrishner
HarryKrishner

It is neglectful not to mention the fact that a few years ago, up at Foxboro, the New England Revolution front office (FO) and local PD went heavy handed into the stands and arrested fans for singing this chant.  Arrests and physical assaults by the PD gave this league a huge black eye, not to mention rally these various supporter groups of each club.

The NYRB FO made a big mistake by offering cash directly to the accounts of these supporter groups.  This is putting these three groups in an uncomfortable position---adhere to the demand and receive money---you are then perceived as being a sell out. This may also motivate some into kicking this up a notch and push the issue--then what, another Foxboro fiasco with local PD going into the stands and arresting folks?   Perhaps offering to donate money into a charity picked by these SG would have been a better option.

Laslty, FWIW, it is not the supporter groups that sing this YSA anymore. The casual fans in the other sections have taken ownership of this song, many come to the games looking foward to singing it.  SO while the league may be successful in getting the supporter groups not to sing it) the fringe, casual fans will continue to sing it.  The league may be creating another headache by pushing this issue.  The supporter groups will most likely come up with another song to replace YSA....and they may not like what they (we) come up with......

CharlesMatheson
CharlesMatheson

 i think you have missed another part of the email that is causing issues. the main issue is part 1. but there is more to the mission the RSL FO and MLS have added to the email, that is also a stipulation on us keeping from being punished. 

1. the RSL letter isnt just asking us not to use the 'YSA" chant but any of its derivatives and any other chants involving foul language

2. we are required to support their efforts and campaign to eradicate ysa on social media and with people we meet. ( you will do what we want and like it and tell everyone you like it)

3. apparently  we dont use the chant in the south end supporters block(nor does section 26) and are holding us accountable anyways. they are requiring us to energetically overshadow an entire stadium who actually does use the chant or we get punished.

4 we are being required to do this at home games, and away games.

lets face it, "YSA" is a very mild chant compared to the more popular leagues cheers and chants in europe and south america. which are happily broadcast on air because they bring in big money to the networks. not only is it mild for them. its also one of the mildest chants the supporters use during games.

ive heard people complain about "this is 'Merika", "freedom of speech" and other things, but lets face it we are doing this on private property owned by the team and MLS. they are trying to build their brand and promote the league. 

the issue isnt one of free speech, its that they are trying to foster passion and spirit at the matches by attacking the very spirit and passion that has helped them build this league over the last 10 years. lets face it the family of 4 that comes out once a month to get out of the house with the kids is not what has built this league to the point it is right now. it has been built on the backs of the fans who come to every game, plan road trips to away games to show their support, and yes drink chant and scream foul language at the opposition and refs, and sometimes our own players.  that passion is contagious(while the language isnt) it spreads like a virus to people at the match who also want to be part of that passion and atmosphere

Cidnethekid
Cidnethekid

Hey MLS at least we don't behead refs' ...   Just saying our swearing is rather minor

BiggAl
BiggAl

Some of these wa nkers need to sod off.

DemondKapow
DemondKapow

[I think the dollar offer was a silly thing and don't like the fans being bullied] Journalistically criminal that the dollar offer is being presented here as going to individuals to offset the cost of going to a game. These are supporters groups who spent money and time out of their own life to make signs, do charity events, go on bus trips, etc. They lose a lot of money individually. None of the proposed money would go to people. It would go to the funds which people use to make all the pretty things and t-shirts and everything else that people in the stadium enjoy for free. Unbelievable that this is being portrayed as rude fans getting a discount.

MarkFishkin
MarkFishkin

Without organized supporters groups, many MLS stadiums would sound just like other American sports stadiums... filled with fans waiting for a scoreboard or sound machine to tell them when to make noise. The YSA chant was (for better or worse) started by supporters, and it's those supporters alone have the power to eradicate the chant by singing or starting a more creative tradition at the appointed time.  After all, the groups bring the power of 1,500+ pairs of lungs working in unison.  That's why they have been offered the reward. Not individuals whose voice can't be heard over the tee-vee.


MoMo
MoMo like.author.displayName 1 Like

This hard core of supporters is what is making MLS exciting and compelling. It's what's bringing in the money and spectators. The profanity really is mild and rarely tainted by real viciousness. 

GArber should take a step back and understand the stupidity of this move. 


justplncate
justplncate

You have to realize that American sports are closely tied NCAA sports.  Pro Sports blossoming out of collegiate sport programs.  And colleges are bastions of restrictive "conduct & speech codes".  (translation: anything mildly conservative = bad/ anything liberal = good)  

It's only logical that pro sports leagues see restriction of fan language as just being more of the same.  The only difference is they push a bottom-line agenda vs. a political one.

Jimmy_Replic
Jimmy_Replic

@justplncate Did you really just try to turn this issue into something about republicans being persecuted?


I am dumber for having reading what you wrote. Amazing.

DenzelEslinger
DenzelEslinger like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

It is funny those letters were crafted by MLS HQ and sent to the teams to use to threaten the supporter groups (considered by many to be the most loyal and dedicated fans of teams) if behavior that often is stadium wide doesn't change.  It is the whole peer pressure thing, but what makes it so very sad is that MLS uses the images and sounds of the supporter groups in much, heck almost all, of their marketing materials but now wants to dictate what those groups that they have benefited from can do and say.

If the issue is broadcasts, the solution is easy, when opposing team goal kicks happen switch to your broadcaster mics and turn off the fan mics.  My god how hard is that to do?  Instead they try this blame game, all the while collecting money from the fans the threaten.   It really is kinda typical of MLS, last year they used an image of fans with flares at a match to promote their playoffs, which would be all good and fine if they hadn't known that those fans were arrested for their behavior, or when earlier this year the league filed trademark paperwork to try to claim ownership of rivalry names, of which none were created or made up by the league but rather were all created by the fans in support of their teams.  I love soccer, and I enjoy MLS, but of all the professional sports in the US, they are perhaps behind only the AFL a complete cluster at time.

kleinsusanv
kleinsusanv

Just another example of the fact that we live in a nation created by geniuses that's now run by idiots.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@kleinsusanv  

care to elaborate? i'm not sure where you're coming from seeing as how this has nothing to do with the people running our country, just the people running a couple teams trying to reign in their fans. i think it's moronic but i'm not seeing the connection you're making