Atlanta United’s inaugural MLS match was amazing in many aspects – from the size and energy of the crowd to the electricity happening on the pitch. Unfortunately, a lot of the good/great things on display were tarnished (not ruined, but tarnished) with poor behavior and antics from a minor subset of the home fans. This makes me sad, because now those actions – drinks tossed on the field and the p*** chant on goal kicks – are some of the main talking points from the national media and the Twittersphere from the game.
Let me be clear that I’m highly confident that this behavior didn’t come from our readership or any of the supporters’ groups. I sat in the supporters’ section at the game, and they were doing all they could to put a stop to it. The supporters’ group capos (meaning chant leaders) were explicitly telling everyone not to use the word p***, which is a hateful chant. In addition, the supporters’ groups across the board have been vocal on social channels to quell the use of inappropriate chants.
Just in case you needed a reminder of why we'll never condone or tolerate this despicable chant. We'll do everything we can to shut it down. https://t.co/ueB911lRCp— Terminus Legion (@TerminusLegion) March 6, 2017
@ATLUTD and SGs are united in stopping any form of derogatory chants/posts/comments. Please read the @MLS Fan Code:https://t.co/KCKt6vTz87 https://t.co/xwcex2oxmp— The Faction (@TheFactionATL) February 16, 2017
So before I go any further, I don’t want to point the finger at our loyal readers and say “Bad! Bad fans!”
But the issue must be acknowledged and addressed, and I don’t think the club has done enough to rid the terraces of this behavior – period. So far, to my knowledge, the club has taken two actions to address poor fan behavior. They published the MLS code of conduct, and they published a letter from Darren Eales, which states:
Inappropriate and offensive chants, foul language, and aggressive or violent behavior will not be tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly.
Please be advised that if you are found to be participating in any of these behaviors, you are subject to removal. If you are near fans using offensive language, please advise stadium security or club staff immediately.
That's a good start, but it leaves a gap in implementation. And worse, it puts the onus on us – the collective fan base – to be the authority over unruly (and often inebriated) fans. If I were to say to that person, “You need to stop saying/doing that,” what do you think that person’s reaction is going to be? They aren’t going to look at me, a fellow fan, as an authority figure over them (and nor should they). On the other side of the coin, if the club is the decision maker, they can’t expect fans to divert their attention from the game in order to report people and call over stadium/team security. The chant happens, but the game goes on and we all want to be paying attention to what’s happening on the field, not off of it.
This is not a criticism of what the club has done to this point so much as it’s a plea for the club to do more from this point forward. The club issued the fan behavior expectations, and now they need to take action to work on a way to diminish the chant. It’s not as simple as kicking out everyone who says the chant, because you’re only reacting to the issue and not resolving the issue at it’s core.
All of this leads me to one conclusion: there isn’t a concrete solution to the distasteful chant issue. I think the club would be wise to meet with select supporters and supporters’ group representatives to discuss proactive solutions, like coming up with a clearly defined goal kick chant that is not hateful (and can still be determined by fans). Whatever the new word/chant is for goal kicks, display it on every video board possible so everyone knows what to say. Last night, there wasn’t a collective idea on this front, so the minority sounded worse than it was because at least they were all on the same page.
As far as the throwing of objects goes, this must be dealt with in a club-driven manner. Throwing projectiles is a very slippery and dangerous slope. What might start out as an innocent plastic cup can rapidly escalate into more dangerous projectiles like coins and hard objects. I have a harder time understanding the people who do this. At least with the frowned upon chant, I understand that it’s culturally charged. Throwing stuff just makes us all look like poor sports who would rather take our ball and go home than accept defeat.
Doug Roberson reported on some of the stadium issues in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. He spoke with AUFC Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra after the game, who acknowledged the issues.
“Some supporters threw items onto the field, an action that technical director Carlos Bocanegra called unacceptable.
The team said it will work to improve the experience for the next game.”
And there is indeed work to be done. Terminus Legion has taken steps for any fan to report a Terminus Legion member for inappropriate behavior through TL Guard. But sadly, despite Atlanta United’s requests for fans to report said behavior to team and stadium officials, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do this. Bobby Dodd Stadium’s web site states:
PLEASE NOTE: Atlanta United policies for games at Bobby Dodd Stadium will differ from Georgia Tech Athletics, please visit www.atlutd.com/matchday for complete match day information
If you follow the link to the club’s match day information page, only the final section, labeled “Tailgating Information,” includes information relating to reporting problems.
However, it’s not clear if this pertains to fan behavior inside the stadium as well. Also, this phone number is only view-able if you expand the section (again, labeled “Tailgating Information”) which is probably not what you’d look for if you were actually trying to find the help number.
The team offered a statement to ESPN FC’s Doug McIntyre Monday, responding to criticism facing the club over the hateful chant being picked up clearly by the TV broadcast.
"We strive to foster a positive, enthusiastic and inclusive environment for all fans, and inappropriate chants have no place at our matches. Atlanta United does not support or condone the use of offensive language. Fans found to be participating in this behavior will be subject to removal from the building."
Actions speak louder than words. The club and fans play equal roles in finding a solution to this problem. Unite and conquer.