Rowdy soccer fans chanting anti-gay slurs and throwing objects onto the field halted play briefly at the CONCACAF final between the United States and Mexico at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado, this past Sunday. According to a report in USA Today, officials stopped the game for three minutes in accordance with league anti-discrimination policies after fans of Mexico started chanting the anti-gay slur for a male prostitute and showering the field with objects. Players from both teams were struck by the objects, including U.S. midfielder Giovanni Reyna who lay on the ground for several minutes after he was hit on the head. The U.S. eventually won the game by a score of 3-2 on a game-winning penalty kick by Christian Pulisic in the 114th minute.
"Total lack of respect for what's happening on the field and all effort that both teams are putting into the game," Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the U.S. team, said following the game. "I think [Reyna is] going to be O.K., but he did take something to the head, and it could have been a lot worse."
The teams from U.S. and Mexico are heated rivals, and the atmosphere was tense throughout the game. Near the end of play, a referee paused the game in accordance with league policy in response to the chanting and rowdy behavior by fans. However, the unsportsmanlike antics continued when the game resumed. After U.S. forward Christian Pulisic scored a late goal, Reyna was struck in the face by an object. He was on the ground surrounded by teammates from both teams for several minutes. Video posted to Twitter showed Mexican forward Henry Martin getting hit on the head with an object as he was standing over the fallen Reyna.
Officials for the stadium later released a statement, announcing multiple arrests and saying they were "fully committed to providing a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all participants and fans."
Denver police arrested five people for their alleged illegal actions at the game. Four were arrested for trespassing, and one was arrested for throwing objects. Security footage was used to identify the fan alleged to have injured Reyna. In addition to the rowdy behavior during the game by spectators, another fan briefly interrupted post-game television coverage by walking behind the broadcasters on live television before apparently being tossed over the railing by security.
Some soccer fans have a notorious reputation when it comes to homophobic chants at opposing players. Gameplay was also halted in Thursday’s semifinal game between Mexico and Costa Rica in accordance with league policy. Some players have also used anti-gay slurs in the past. The USL Championship soccer league suspended Junior "Flemmo" Flemmings for six games and fined the Phoenix player an undisclosed amount after he was found to have used homophobic language in a tirade against an opposing player during a game last October. In another incident, MLS LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget apologized after posting a video of himself using a homophobic slur in jest with a teammate on the U.S. Men’s National Team in April.
Some players don’t always take the homophobic hatred without a fight. Henry Bethell, who plays soccer for Sarah Lawrence College in New York, delivered the "punch heard round the world" when he decked an opposing player who called him homophobic slurs without punishment during a game last year.
"It just happened," Bethell told Cyd Zeigler of OutSports. "I turned around and punched him. After that I kind of blacked out, like a flight-or-fight response."