A PSP after-school special: Don’t cross the line

Photo credit: Earl Gardner

Before going any further, let’s make sure we all know what incident we’re talking about.

After Sunday’s game in Atlanta, Union winger-turned-striker Fafà Picault received a rather shocking message on Instagram. Picault screenshotted the conversation, and it is still visible on his Instagram story at the time of writing this article. (A screenshot of Picault’s post is available HERE once it times out, or if you don’t have access to Instagram)

Sleuths on Reddit, and our own Nick Fishman, eventually found that the since-deleted Instagram account was connected to the Twitter account of a young Montenegrin person. Said person appears to have no particular connection to Philadelphia or the Union, from what can be deciphered through retweets and Google-translated Croatian they appear to be a general fan of the NBA and soccer, and probably just caught the Union-United game on the Serbian television network Arena Sport and decided to lash out at Picault.

I’m not telling you this because it justifies their behavior — nothing could. I’m telling you so that we can move past the campaign to have this individual banned from Talen Energy Stadium and ostracized from any Union fan groups. There’s no point in that because this scumbag never was coming to Talen Energy Stadium, and never cared about the Union before Sunday night. In other words, this wasn’t “us.”

And if that’s all this were, there wouldn’t be much to talk about. An asshole did something you’d have to be an asshole to do. This is not surprising, newsworthy, or (unfortunately) uncommon. But nothing happens in a vacuum. As the Union continue their disappointing run of form, fan frustration sets new high water marks game after game and season after season. If you spend any time on Union channels on your social media of choice, you’ve probably seen some pretty outlandish statements of malcontent.

But there is a fundamental difference between critiquing a player’s performance, or complaining about the team in abstract, and an unprovoked personal attack like this. And unfortunately the latter seems to be on the rise. Even here on PSP, a relatively comfortable and civil corner of the sports-Internet, we’ve had a few comments (since removed) that crossed the line. And of course all of this happens against the backdrop of current events where more and more people are taking action in real life based on the garbage and hate strewn across the Internet.

That’s why instead of talking about how exciting it was seeing Brenden Aaronson’s first start was, or what the Union need to do to get this season in gear before it’s too late, I wanted to take the time to start a conversation here about this kind of behavior and what we, as a community, can do about it. MLS had the well-publicised “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign a few years back, and that was a good thing. But at the end of the day the only people who paid attention or “signed the pledge” were already the type of people who weren’t going to do this sort of thing. And even if they weren’t, what was MLS going to do about it?

So the question falls to us. What can we, as a soccer community, do to combat this sort of behavior? PSP is, and always will be, committed to maintaining a space where we can discuss the Union without resorting to the vileness Fafà Picault was exposed to. But clearly more needs to be done. So let’s talk about it. You know we have a comment section, you know we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Use them. Let’s have a real conversation about how to combat actions like this, and how to prevent them from happening in the future.


  1. I would feel better about this article if not for the fact that at least once per game a not safe for elementary school kids chant did not start at Talen. Vileness starts with people crossing the line, and that line starts at four letter words.

    I would like to think that I can go with my kids (well at this point it would be prospective grandkids) without worrying about what the fans do. There is a foul language code of conduct at the stadium, I just wish they would enforce it and the fans respected it

    • I seem to remember a lot of people cheering the SOB having a funeral march complete with coffin for an ex-gm as well.

      • Yeah… neither of your examples have anything to do with jerks sending hateful/violent messages to players.

      • Carrying a coffin with a persons likeness in it because you don’t like the job they are doing isn’t a hateful/violent message? I agree that what was said to Fafa should never be said to anyone and is completely out of line in any society. I feel really bad for the guy and can’t imagine the stress that puts on someone and their family.

      • The coffin symbolized Sak as a “serial franchise killer,” not a desire to see Sak dead. Ditto for the tombstone banners in TRE during another match. There’s plenty to be upset regarding that awful message Fafa received, but this ain’t it chief.

    • I did not realize that there was a foul language code of conduct within the stadium. In light of that, it is curious why anyone would think chants are exempted.
      While I don’t make it a practice to use those words… unless in extreme pain :-)… I’m not personally offended by those who do.
      Still, I can appreciate and respect the code. We can be intense, loud, passionate and wild without it.

    • I definitely agree that there are inappropriate chants in TRE, “shoot him like a horse” immediately springs to mind. That chant doesn’t even have a swear word though. The problem is the dehumanizing attitude and message, not the swearing.

      The “worst” swear word the person this article is written about used is “shit,” but clearly the content of the message is much more vile than that word is. Would it have been an acceptable message if he said crap instead? Obviously not.

      I’m fully on board with addressing inappropriate chants in TRE. Curse words though are extremely common in daily life even if you don’t like it, and acting like swearing is step one to PMing someone that you hope their family is diseased and they get in a car accident is a red herring

      • Really? Shoot him like a horse no means we want a guy dead? Holy crap. This is pathetic.

      • Sak literally said of the coffin and fans throwing fireworks in it: “My family as well as I were deeply affected by that experience and when my youngest son saw a picture of a coffin with my name it really struck home.”
        But yeah, totally soft to literally watch people do that and think it crosses the line. Also, what do you think shoot him like a horse means?
        What some random dude did half way cross the world without a doubt crossed the line and should be taken seriously and dealt with seriously. Doesn’t mean other actions didn’t cross the line as well.

    • No it does not. The SoB involved were not doing it to say anyone wanted him dead. If you actually paid attention it was to symbolize his job. Maybe you could argue that they should have done a better job on that, but to say that a protest equates to a hate filled rant on FB is just stupid.

      Also, a few curse words in a chant equate to that as well? Seriously? My goodness you’re soft.

  2. I see the rise of incivility play out on a regular basis in the workplace… (no, I’m not a doctor at Johns Hopkins). Can’t reveal those details.
    The culture of “offense” continues to grow, fed by many streams. And when someone feels offended, one can easily feels justified in lashing out. It’s modeled on countless “reality” shows, played out in social media, politics, music…
    Yes, Stadium and web site policy and enforcement plays a part.
    But what can WE do? What can *I* do?
    Begin with me. Guard my own mind and emotions. Model restraint one interaction at a time. Refrain from lashing out at the ref or player in the moment, even if no one else (e.g. my children) is around. Be mindful of what I consume (watch, read, listen to).
    “We become what we behold.”
    Easier said than done, but we have to own the little moments and model what we want to see in the next generation.

  3. Fafa is clearly upset with himself on his performance on Sunday. Otherwise he wouldn’t be paying any mind to a nobody in a private ig message criticizing with insults. Instead of ignoring or shrugging it off, he chooses to blast the mere nobody of a social media user. Psychologically it shows that he’s mentally feeble.

    Does this type of hate message belong in sport? anywhere in the world? absolutely not. As a professional footballer, should you finish sitters? absolutely should. Fafa is clearly beyond frustrated with his performances so far this season. Others have pointed out his “deer in headlights” bouts in front of goal.

    Thousands of athletes across the globe get messages like these. Simple fix? don’t give in and read them. Get your head off the internet and focus on your skills that got you here.

    Let’s see if Curtain can screw up next week’s lineup.

    • Not sure what Fafa’s misses have to do with people reaching out to him to share hateful messages. To say anything to the effect of “this is how fafa should have responded” is misguided unless you happen to be him and are in that situation. Nor judging the man to be mentally “feeble” because he felt the need to speak up after, as he said it, he’s received this and worse his entire career.
      Blasting a nobody on Social Media? I’m in favor for it. You act like an idiot in a public forum, you should be called on it.
      THIS conversation is nothing to do with player/team/coach performance, but the civility of us, the fans and how we interact with our players and team. You want to talk (complain) about Curtin (for the love of god spell it right), go comment on the game analysis or player ratings, where that type of comment belongs.

  4. It’s sad that this happens. And Fafa is just the guy we are hearing about in this instance. It’s the kind of hate speech that has no place on earth. As to what we can do? Police ourselves and each other. It’s no easy to say to people ” hey ,please don’t say that again” but it can be done. KFC mentioned Fafa being mentally feeble. I think more of just being human and wanting to say ” Dude,shut up!” Also a huge thanks to this site for being a pretty safe place. You guys do a great job!

  5. John O'Donnell Jr says:

    Personally I can’t understand why celebrities and pro athletes have social media accounts. It doesn’t seem to ever go well for them and isn’t worth the trouble. I don’t think you can do anything about it as free speech is free speech. Ignoring it will make it just go away in my opinion. To think you can change anything means giving up the right to free speech and making it an issue seems to only motivate the next idiot to get the same attention. Besides we as a soccer community have no real leaders and who gets to decide? Maybe common decency is what we have lost in the generation of social media.

    • Threats are not covered under free speech. Naming and shaming these jerks makes it go away. Pretending it doesn’t happen is only ignorance.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        Keep believing that it makes them go away. Hey did they go away at Yankee stadium? Last I heard the answer would be no. Thinking you can reason with idiots is interesting thought but sorry I don’t believe it’s worth the time. Ignoring them takes the oxygen out of the situation to me, which they do desperately seek. It’s like saying rap music lyrics make people do bad things so let’s get rid of it and all the problems will be solved.

  6. That man is despicable for what he did, no doubt about it.

    Some of these comments are half the reason why it happens. People blaming a chant or a curse or something and equating it to what that message said is asinine. The mental gymnastics involved are insane. It’s the equivalent of saying video games cause violent crimes. There’s a lot that needs to happen in between, enough that linking the two is stupid.

    People really need to relearn personal repsonsibility and accountability for their actions. And others need to stop blaming inanimate objects or words for the actions of others.

    In other words YOU absolve him of the responsibility of his words.

  7. Last year we went to Foxboro for the away game and stayed in the same hotel as the U. Without hesitation Fafa walks over to our family of 5 and hugs our kids and my wife. Super nice guy. People seem to think that professional athletes are inherently different and, in a certain way, less than deserving of common decency. Probably has something to do with paying to see them play a sport. Somewhere in there we forget that they are beating themselves up for missing sitters or losing points in stoppage time.

    I love the chants and vitality the SOB bring to games. What bothers me at games is the No One Likes Us chant. Philadelphia fans seem to hate themselves and deal in negativity. Yes, the Union are in a funk and we have seen it before. I can’t wait to be at the stadium on Saturday and cheer on our team that plays a sport I really enjoy watching.

    Threats are a sign of self loathing. Negativity is a sign of hubris. How about we actually cheer at the top of our lungs. Groan when a shot is missed, then cheer the play that led there. There were times last year when I thought playing at home was a detriment. Imagine if the Boys in Blue actually felt we were behind them.

    • Yes, yes, and yes!!

      The SOB chants and behavior have gone way over the deep end. The No One Likes Us Chant is pathetic and vile. There are kids in the stands and they should not be subjected to cursing.

      It goes to their general behavior in general. You said it perfectly Drew! Why can’t we support our team by cheering for them? Why can’t we support our team without putting down and hating on the opponents?

      There are so many examples of this behavior. Turning their backs when the opponents are introduced. Yelling “SUCKS” every time an opposing player is introduced. Really? What are we, 12 years old? Ironically isn’t sad that in general we suck more than most teams that visit our stadium? As a soccer fan we should respect and enjoy watching wonderful players on the field? How do you say “SUCKS” to Villa, Giovinco, Ibra, Martinez, etc?

      Same goes for yelling at the refs. Guess what? The ref is NOT always wrong.

      No matter what the intent was or what others say, the coffin thing was disgusting. There are ways to get your message across without putting a man’s name on a coffin!

  8. Fafa is an incredibly nice human being and I feel for him and his family. There is no place in the sport or in life for this sort of hate speech and behavior.

    This is after all a GAME. Just a GAME! If you can’t watch it without becoming hateful, then go do something else.

  9. Paul Goings says:

    Maybe we can begin by asking what the boundaries of “supporter culture” are or should be? Is yelling at the officials or opposing players acceptable? (I would hope so!) What language is appropriate?

    Are chants and demonstrations that employ symbolic or metaphorical content acceptable? Does it matter whether it’s directed towards the franchise generally, the management, or the players?

    These are discussions worth having, and it is from questions like these that we will be able to develop principles that will help us address specific incidents. Otherwise we’ll just argue over them endlessly, and people will do whatever they feel like doing.

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