MLS needs to clampdown on the F-word chanting at referees

It’s time for Major League Soccer to clean up its game. R-rated chants should not be welcome at a PG-rated sport. Photo: Who'd be a ref? The Washington Times

WASHINGTON, August 21, 2012 — It’s time for Major League Soccer to clean up its game. R-rated chants should not be welcome at a PG-rated sport.

Sunday in our nation’s capital was an ideal day for soccer. The heat had subsided somewhat and we were presented with a rare 5 o’clock kick off to watch an exciting game between I-95 rivals D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union at RFK Stadium. What a perfect moment to introduce young people to the beautiful game.

But young Johnny, or young Julie, may have taken more than their Dwayne De Rosario bobbleheads home from this match. Those youngsters got to see an ugly side of the sport and left with their ears ringing from the foul-mouth chants spewed out by a certain section of fans upset over a number of referee decisions. Obviously the pre-game video encouraging fans to be respectful isn’t working.

It’s hard enough for parents today to protect their kids from the gutter language of the world than to have them witness hundreds of grownups chanting the F-word directed at a single individual, who just happens to be the person of authority on the field. Referees make mistakes, and bad calls are part of the game, and we all get upset at times.

However, when a large group of people direct an organized tirade of abuse — in unison —  at a single individual, it is not only demeaning and cowardly, but takes on an ominous and destructive nature. Come on, guys, we all feel a little embarrased and uncomfortable when we hear these chants. 

Do these type of organized R-rated chants take place at baseball, basketball, hockey, and gridiron football games? I don’t know. Without referees there are no soccer games. Soccer is growing sport in America and the game desperately needs young referees. Would a young person watching a referee face such abuse be encouraged to take up the referee’s whistle? I was a referee once and I chickened out. I had enough stress in my life. 

When I was kid I remember fans getting upset with referees. Yes, we heard the occasional bad language and curse, and the odd song about referees needing to wear glasses sung to the tune “Oh My Darling, Clementine”. Yet I don’t recall hearing large groups of fans chanting venom at a single individual. It’s okay to air disapproval, but certain words really hurt. 
FIFA soccer’s governing body is trying to clean up the game. In the last year we’ve seen how players and fans have been sanctioned and punished for using racist language. At major international games, players walk out carrying banners bearing the word “RESPECT,” and team captains speak to the crowd on the topic. 

Referees are human. How about protecting and respecting them? How about protecting and respecting our young people and fellow fans in the stands? Commissioner Don Garber are you listening?

When Wayne Rooney swore into the camera after scoring a hat-trick in a game for Manchester United, it left teachers across Britain with a big headache the following Monday morning and started a national discussion on players using foul-language. Let’s get rid of this ugliness in the sport and all grow up a little. Players and fans are all responsible.

In the future, if a referee is faced with a large section of fans chanting the F-word at him, I suggest he should walk off the field. No referee; no game. Problem solved. 
After all, it doesn’t take too much to be nice does it? It’s only a game.

For over 20 years John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon


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John Haydon

John Haydon has covered soccer for The Washington Times for two decades. He has reported on international soccer events in Germany, South Korea and Spain. John hails from Birmingham, England and has lived in the Washington D.C. region for over twenty years.  

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