Just a week after one their players was the target of a racial slur, the San Diego Loyal saw their season end with a forfeit in protest of what they allege was another slur.
San Diego Loyal players walked off the field in protest of what they insist was the use of a homophobic slur by Phoenix Rising forward Junior Flemmings against openly gay San Diego midfielder Collin Martin.
The incident took place on the Loyal’s final match of the regular season, and one San Diego needed to win to help its chances of qualifying for the USL playoffs. The Loyal held a 3-1 lead when the incident in question took place just before halftime.
The incident in question involved Martin reacting to what he heard as a homophobic slur from Flemmings, which led match referee Joseph Salinas to issue Martin a red card because he mistook Martin’s reaction to be, in itself, a homophobic slur. After a prolonged discussion, Salinas waived off Martin’s red card, but did not issue Flemmings a red card, citing the fact he didn’t hear Flemmings say anything.
The Loyal refused to continue the match if Flemmings wasn’t removed, either by the match officials or substituted by Phoenix Rising, but Phoenix Rising coach Rick Schantz refused to remove Flemmings, leading to the Loyal’s decision to walk off the field and forfeit the match.
Loyal head coach and U.S. Men’s National Team legend Landon Donovan addressed his team’s decision to forfeit the match and made it clear his team stood by the decision and believed Martin when he insisted Flemmings used a homophobic slur aimed at him.
— San Diego Loyal (@SanDiegoLoyal) October 1, 2020
“Our guys, to their immense credit, just said, ‘We’re not going to stand for this’,” Donovan said. “They were very clear in that moment that they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs, even though they were beating one of the best teams in the league, handily. But they said it doesn’t matter, there’s things more important in life, and we have to stick up for what we believe in. And so they made the decision to walk off and I have tremendous pride in this group.”
The USL issued a statement on the incident, saying only that it was investigating, and the match is being ruled a forfeit and is not being counted toward the league standings.
“We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in tonight’s match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC,” the USL said in a statement. “Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches. An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”
Flemmings, who is Jamaican, is accused of using a Jamaican homophobic slur directed at Martin, something he categorically denied in a Twitter post on Wednesday night:
Phoenix Rising head coach Rick Schantz was facing backlash for his exchange with Donovan after the incident, where he appeared to downplay the significance of what took place.
Landon Donovan to Phoenix Rising coach Rick Schantz: "What do you mean this isn't a big deal? We have to get this out of our game."
— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) October 1, 2020
Schanz attempted to clarify his exchange with Donovan on Twitter, claiming his remarks were related to Donovan’s actions — which included walking onto the field — and not in response to the accusation of a homophobic slur.
— Rick Schantz (@RickSchantz1) October 1, 2020
Wednesday’s incident comes a week after San Diego Loyal defender Elijah Martin was the target of a racial slur used by LA Galaxy II defender Omar Ontiveros. Though Ontiveros was subsequently suspended by USL for seven matches for the incident, and Galaxy II cut ties with Ontiveros, the Loyal wanted to go a step further and requested that the point it received for the draw in that game be erased in protest.
It remains unclear how the USL will handle Wednesday’s situation, though as things stand, the Loyal are set to miss the playoffs in their inaugural season. Donovan and his players made it clear on Wednesday that standing up for what they believe is right mattered more than that.