U.S. Soccer great Landon Donovan is the owner and manager of the San Diego Loyal, a team in the USL – the second tier professional soccer team in the United States, under the MLS. Last night, after a player on the opposing Phoenix Rising allegedly used a homophobic slur against San Diego midfielder Collin Martin, Donovan opted to pull his team off the field.
Phoenix’s Junior Flemmings is alleged to have used a Jamaican homophobic slur against Martin, who came out in 2018. According to those watching the game, it was picked up clearly on the broadcast. After halftime, Donovan’s San Diego team took a knee on the sideline, protesting the second half. San Diego led the game 3-1 at the time.
The situation led to a pretty heated and bizarre standoff between Donovan and Phoenix manager Rick Schantz over the situation. Donovan reportedly said the team would continue the game if Flemmings was removed. A referee confirmed that he heard the word, but couldn’t remove Flemmings because he didn’t know what it meant. Schantz tried to make it seem as if homophobia was part of the game, and asked Donovan how long he’s been in soccer, a ridiculous question to ask of perhaps the most celebrated American player in the sport’s history.
“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 after the club’s decision to walk out on the rest of the match. “So much so that on our sign boards we made a statement saying ‘I will act, I will speak.'”
— Clinton St. Clair (@cdog209) October 1, 2020
The decision comes just a week after the Loyal opted to forfeit a match after an alleged racial slur made against midfielder Elijah Martin by Los Angeles Galaxy II player Omar Ontiveros went unpenalized. Landon Donovan reflected on what has been an exhausting few weeks for the club.
— San Diego Loyal (@SanDiegoLoyal) October 1, 2020
“When I heard (about the slur against Martin), I lost it,” Donovan said. “Because I know what this team has gone through. I know how hard it was for this team to take the field tonight, given everything that happened, and then for it to happen again a week later, it was just devastating for me.”
Before the match, in response to the incident in Los Angeles, Schantz put out a statement in support of the Loyal, and against racism in the sport and society at large. From Cronkite News:
“There is no place in the sports for racism,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said. “There’s no place anywhere in the world for racism.”
“For me as a coach, in my mind, with my players, an immediate reaction would have been more warranted,”Schantz said. “If that ever happened to us, I would expect our players to support and defend each other.”
Unfortunately, when a different form of bigotry came from his own team, he turned combative last night, rather than lend Donovan’s team the support that he pledged just days earlier.
The USL says it is investigating the situation:
“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.”
The Rising also released a statement, saying that Flemmings denies using the slur, even though multiple people have confirmed its use.
— x-Phoenix Rising FC (@PHXRisingFC) October 1, 2020
We’ll have more on the situation as it comes out.