For the second time in a week, the San Diego Loyal SC of the USL Championship found themselves in the middle of a controversy over alleged hate speech, this time walking off the pitch in protest after the club claimed an opposing player used a homophobic slur against a Loyal player.
The alleged incident happened Wednesday night, during the first half of a game between the host Loyal and Phoenix Rising FC in San Diego. According to the Loyal's Twitter feed, a Phoenix Rising player called the Loyal's Collin Martin a homophobic slur in the first half. In June 2018, Martin came out as gay while with MLS' Minnesota United.
The San Diego club is co-owned and coached by Landon Donovan, the joint all-time-leading goal-scorer in U.S. men's national team history.
In a postgame statement posted to the Loyal's Twitter feed, Donovan said Martin brought the slur to referees' attention as the first half ended, just after Martin was given a red card with San Diego up 3-1.
Shortly thereafter, an animated Donovan was caught on video discussing the incident with Schantz and the referee at the start of halftime, with Donovan at one point turning away from Schantz incredulously.
According to Donovan, the referee admitted he heard the word at the heart of the issue, but the referee would not send the player off because the referee did not understand the phrase, allegedly a Jamaican slur. Donovan said that Schantz also would not substitute the player out of the game.
During a halftime that Donovan called "a really difficult 20 minutes," the Loyal decided to take the pitch for the second half, but if the player who allegedly made the slur was still not removed from the game, the Loyal would walk off the pitch and refuse to play the second half.
"If we wanted to be true to who we are as a club, we have to speak, and we have to act," Donovan said in the statement.
"If they're not willing to act, then we have to act. We have no choice," Donovan said of the officials and of Schantz after the alleged offender was allowed to remain in the game.
In refusing to play the second half, the Loyal forfeited, ultimately costing themselves any shot at the playoffs.
Later Wednesday night, Rising forward Junior Flemmings tweeted that he was the one accused of using a slur, but he denied ever using it. Flemmings is from Jamaica.
"This evening in our match against the San Diego Loyal I was accused of making a homophobic slur towards a San Diego Loyal player," the statement began. "This accusation is false and my fellow teammates will support my claim."
"The referee admitted he did not hear any homophobic slurs and was utterly confused by the situation," the statement added later. "At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin. I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included. I am disappointed by San Diego's actions this evening as I have been mauled and ridiculed online with no opportunity to defend myself. This is my statement. I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement."
The Rising issued a statement, which read in part, "Phoenix Rising is investigating the claim of a homophobic slur being used by one its players who has vehemently denied these allegations. Phoenix Rising stands with the USL in rejecting and punishing any homophobic behavior."
USL also issued a statement: "We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in tonight's match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC. 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."
On Sept. 23, LA Galaxy II defender Omar Ontiveros used a racial slur against the Loyal's Elijah Martin, a Black player. The Loyal earned a point for a draw in that game, but on Friday the club announced it wanted to forfeit that point. Ontiveros was released by the LA Galaxy II on Saturday.
"We went through a really hard incident last week in the L.A. match and we made a vow to ourselves, to our community, to our players, to the club, to USL, that we would not stand for bigotry, homophobic slurs, things that don't belong in our game," Donovan said in the video, adding that the team's biggest regret from the Galaxy II incident was not taking a stand at the moment the slur was used.
The Galaxy II's win on Wednesday officially eliminated the Loyal from postseason contention.
--Field Level Media