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When it comes to crowd behavior at Toyota Park, the Fire’s priorities are out of alignment

Popping smoke gets you ejected while homophobic chants are ignored. What gives?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor’s note: we did not reach out to the club in advance of publication of this article. We realize in retrospect that we should’ve attempted to seek comment ahead of time. We regret the oversight.]

[Editor’s note 2: we mistakenly referred to the device set off in the Harlem End as a flare. It was actually a smoke bomb.]

“The Chant” is a problem.

I can’t say it’s becoming a problem, because this has been a problem for several years at this point. Fans are yelling a homophobic slur on goalkicks, the supporter community and the club have been aware of this, and it’s still happening.

To their credit, more fans in and around Section 8 have been willing to confront those yelling the chant. But asking nicely doesn’t always work.

In August of last year, the Fire made a big, public show denouncing the proliferation of the chant and that it would not be tolerated any further. Their big plan for dealing with those who yell the chant appears to have focused on pregame announcements and... that’s about it. As far as we’re aware, no fan in attendance at a Fire home game has been removed by security for yelling the chant. (Please feel free to correct me on this in the comments if I am mistaken. I would love to be wrong about this.)

As I said in the post linked above, the most effective deterrent for bad fan behavior, like homophobic chants, is clearly-articulated expectations coupled with consistently-enforced material consequences. So far, the Fire seem unwilling enforce consequences for yelling homophobic invective during games.

You know what they will do something about, though? Pyro.

During the last home game of the regular season— the 3-2 win over Philadelphia— a fan in the Harlem End popped a smoke canister to celebrate one of Nemanja Nikolic’s three goals on the day. According to unconfirmed reports, the fan who set off that smoke canister was reported to security and (presumably) ejected. Said fan is allegedly banned from Toyota Park for a year.

If this is true— and again, at press time this is still unconfirmed— this would be both very disappointing and not at all surprising. Whether it’s due to directives from Major League Soccer, pressure from the Village of Bridgeview, or both, fans who set off flares or smoke bombs in Toyota Park have been disproportionately punished in recent years relative to other common transgressions. (This comes at a time when Monterrey Security, which already has a checkered past among Fire fans, is under increased scrutiny after having their contract with the Minnesota Vikings terminated and losing their license to operate in the State of New York.) While there may be valid safety reasons to prohibit pyro in the Harlem End, there are also plenty of other reasons to toss fans who behave badly that somehow never actually result in ejection.

Whether intentionally or not, the Fire is sending a message. Pop some smoke in the stands, and you will feel the full might and fury of the club and Monterrey Security. Scream homophobic slurs in the stands? Ehhhhh.

And don’t think this kind of double-standard is unique to the Fire.

As I’ve written before: people do what they think they can get away with. The only way The Chant will go away is if the social and material costs of doing it are raised high enough that most people decide it’s not worth it. The club and the fans need to work together to make sure this happens. The fans are already starting to step up. It’s on the FO now to keep their end of the bargain.

And in the meantime, the club has to do a better job of articulating their expectations for fan behavior at Toyota Park and their rationale for enforcement. Even in isolation, ejections and year-long bans for smoke bombs represent a shocking overreaction. In the context of how other infractions are dealt with, this inconsistency is simply inexcusable.

In an ideal world, the front office would be willing to dialogue with Section 8 leadership to hammer out a compromise solution for fan pyro and develop a comprehensive plan for confronting hate speech in the stands. Failing that, the club has an obligation to explain to the fans why The Chant has become a lesser priority since GM Nelson Rodriguez gave that speech 15 months ago while smoke bombs remain a hill they’re willing to die on.

Mr. Rodriguez, I would love to talk to you to discuss these issues and give you a chance to have your side of the story told. You can get in touch with me through my website or on Twitter. Looking forward to hearing from you.