The World Cup will be occurring in Brazil this summer, and as almost any company would do, Brazilian t-shirt company Sergio K is planning to capitalize on this event. Their idea, it seems, is to print slanderous t-shirts about players on other teams that are playing in the World Cup, and as such have sparked a lot of controversy. Some of the shirts are quoted as being “harmless”, even though printing a shirt on which one player is referred to as a “loser” still seems like a waste of time and money. However, it is the shirts which refer to players as “faggot” and “gay” that are calling people to action. One shirt the company released calls Argentinian player Diego Maradona a “maricon” which is slang for “faggot”. The other boldly offensive shirt says simply, “C. Ronaldo is gay”. According to the owner of the company, Sergio Kamalakian, since the controversy began, sales of the shirts have only increased and they are now sold out. Furthermore, he has been cited as being unapologetic about the shirts, stating they are “inoffensive”.
What these shirts, and their subsequent controversy, has illustrated is both the issues surrounding sexual identity in athletics, but also the issues surrounding the consumer nature of professional athletics, especially events such as the World Cup. As we saw in the video we watched in class a couple of weeks ago, many areas of the world are much more open about their discrimination than the United States is. In Europe, for example, multiple black players have walked off the field after being taunted with bananas and other racially charged vulgarities. Furthermore, due to the heteronormative nature of most Western cultures, gay, lesbian, and transgender professional athletes face a lot of difficulties, if they’re even given the opportunity to make it that far.
What exacerbates this issue even further, however, is the consumer nature of Western society, professional athletics in general, and internationally recognized sports events. Sergio K was utilizing this consumer culture surrounding events like the World Cup, the Olympics, the Super Bowl, etc., to communicate a negative message about LGBT community members and further the structural violence perpetrated against them daily. Shockingly, despite the fact that Brazil legalized gay marriage last year, 44% of the world’s anti-LGBT violence occurs in Brazil. While Sergio K did not see anything wrong with the shirts, whose intentions were only to morally debase the players from other teams, the 292 LGBT community members who were killed in 2013 alone could probably have benefitted from more positive reinforcement of the LGBT community. The country can pass as much legislation as they’d like to promote queer equality and equal rights for all, but the small scale actions are what truly matter. The fact that Sergio K thinks that by printing that other players are faggots or gay, they are implying that it makes them less of an athlete, and subsequently enforcing and renewing anti-LGBT attitudes worldwide.
While Sochi, Russia got away with passing anti-LGBT legislation just before the 2014 Winter Olympics, Brazil and all of those watching and buying World Cup related paraphernalia must consider the consequences of their actions. The structure cannot be changed unless everyone is complicit and active in the change. The sales of these shirts should be stopped, and the voices of LGBT athletes and advocates alike needs to be looked for, listened to, and heard.
Based on article from Thought Progress: