EDITOR'S NOTE: This post includes the use of an anti-gay slur because it is relevant to the the story.
Right before the kickoff of the World Cup match between Mexico and the Netherlands (June 29), one of the Univision announcers interrupted the network's reliably hyperkinetic broadcast to read a statement.
After the first generic words, it became clear the Spanish-language network was addressing the use of the anti-gay slur puto (translatable both as "faggot" and "man whore") that fans of El Tri have long yelled to rattle their opponents during the execution of a goal kick or other set pieces. The audible presence of the slur during World Cup matches moved FIFA to consider sanctioning Mexico (it didn't). Gay rights organizations asked for the yell to be muted during broadcasts on ESPN and Univision. The networks didn't oblige that request. The statement was used to draw a line without having to repeatedly mute the natural sound feed during the match.
As of this writing, the statement hasn't been posted to the network's World Cup press page, but the translated version provided on the website of GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) reads as follows:
"We recognize that during the game there may be language, or chants, from some fans that are offensive to some members of our television audience. Although we realize this can happen in any televised sporting event, we do not, in any case, condone or endorse the use of such language. Univision Communications supports a World Cup that is inclusive, one that celebrates the diversity of the sport we love and can be enjoyed by all — absent what can be the hurtful consequences of certain words. In this regard, we strive to make sure that our own coverage and commentary is respectful and inclusive of all, including the gay community. This is our commitment to our audience, our community and our partners."
A step in the right direction? Of course. Univision has come a long way in changing its relationship with and treatment of the LGBT community, particularly following the awful incident in which a radio station owned by the corporation was fined by the Federal Communications Commission for outing a gay man on air through a prank call in 2002. In recent years, the network has won several GLAAD Media Awards for its investigative stories on gay topics, and has distanced itself from the mocking portrayals of the LGBT community provided by other Hispanic media.
That said, Univision's coverage and commentary are far from being "respectful and inclusive of all" as its statement promised.
Not only have some of its own World Cup broadcasters been called out for their careless use of offensive words during their match chitchat, but in a different broadcast, I cringed as I heard two of the broadcasters joking about how they'd like to marry their sisters with one player or the other, as if the women were disposable objects.
Univision may be on the right path when it comes to gay rights — and mind you, they were not the ones chanting the offensive slur, just transmitting the international feed over which they have no control — but their implicit condemnation of the behavior of Mexican fans comes off as flatly hypocritical when you consider how the television network actively denigrates and objectifies women in their own daytime shows for the sake of easy ratings.
Consider, for instance, República Deportiva, a weekly "sports" show that many people watch because of its "senators," three women in skimpy outfits who pose for calendars and sometimes pay a visit ("in their teeny bikinis") to the jacuzzi that plays a central role in El Gordo y la Flaca, another popular show on the network. Or just think of how women are routinely treated in the Guinness-record holding variety show Sábado Gigante, which, as another contributor to this blog recently pointed out, holds beauty contests that refer to actual mothers by the catcall mamacita. The show's host Don Francisco may be gay-friendly (he interviewed the first gay couple married in Mexico), but in 1994 he settled a sexual harassment suit filed by one of his "models" out of court.
I'm not the one to cast the first stone here. As a kid growing up in Chile, where Sábado Gigante originated, I would spend hours in front of the TV (the show used to run all Saturday afternoon, for about six hours) waiting to see one of the sexy Argentine showgirls acting in the lowbrow comedy sketches. But what flew in the Pinochet-ruled Chile of the '80s shouldn't be acceptable in the United States of the 21st century. And just as I grew up and figured out a few things about respecting women long before I moved to this country, it's high time for Univision to stop aiming at the lowest common denominator and resorting to recycling the worst gender stereotypes of Latin America.
José Manuel Simián is a Chilean-American writer based in Brooklyn. He is the executive editor of the Latino culture and lifestyle website Manero. In a former life, he was a lawyer and law professor in Santiago.