The San Diego Loyal SC forfeited its USL Championship match Wednesday night after its players alleged a member of the opposing Phoenix Rising FC used a homophobic slur on the field.
According to the team's official Twitter account, as well as several reports, the incident allegedly occurred towards the end of the first half, when the slur was directed at Loyal's Collin Martin, who publicly came out as gay in 2018.
The San Diego players, coached by former U.S. men's national team star Landon Donovan, then took a knee at the beginning of the second half before walking off the pitch in protest.
"In the first half, a member of Phoenix Rising used a homophobic slur directed at Collin Martin. In response we have decided to walk off the pitch in protest," the team tweeted out in a statement during the game.
Footage shared by SportsCenter and The Athletic's Jeff Reuter, shows Donovan and Phoenix Rising's coach, Rick Schantz, discussing the incident with the referee, who had just rescinded a red card he initially gave to Martin.
While the referee tried to explain what happened, San Diego defender Tarek Morad approached Schantz and said, "Coach, your player called my gay teammate a b—- boy. Don't act dumb you know what that means."
Per Reuter, the slur is "a Jamaican slang term for a gay or effeminate man" and was allegedly said by Phoenix midfielder Junior Flemmings.
Schantz repeatedly tried to defend his player, asking Donovan to not "make a big scene" while Donovan told the coach "this is beyond soccer."
"We have to get this out of our game," Donovan said, to which Schantz replied, "It's got nothing to do with racism."
Donovan then said: "It's not racism, they're calling him gay. It's homophobia."
"They're competing," Schantz said.
Schantz later issued a statement on Twitter, saying he was "in no way excusing any alleged homophobic behavior" from his players.
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The USL released a statement after the game, saying they were launching an investigation into the incident.
“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," the league said. "An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”
Phoenix Rising also released a statement, saying Flemmings "vehemently" denies the allegations that he used the slur.
"Shortly before halftime during the Phoenix Rising FC match with San Diego Loyal SC this evening, confusion occurred surrounding the referee’s issuance of a red card to a San Diego player," the team said. "Phoenix Rising is investigating the claim of a homophobic slur being used by one of its players who has vehemently denied these allegations. Phoenix Rising stands with the USL in rejecting and punishing any homophobic behavior."
Flemmings also released a statement denying the accusation, claiming that the San Diego players made a false allegation to try and "persuade the referee's decision and convince him he made a mistake" when giving Martin a red card.
"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," he said. "I am disappointed by San Diego's actions this evening as I have been mauled and ridiculed online with no opportunity to defend myself… I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement."
In a video shared by the Loyal after the game this week, Donovan said the team "made a vow" that they "would not stand" for further "bigotry, homophobic slurs, things that don't belong in our game."
Donovan said the team had agreed they would continue with the game if the referee or Schantz removed the accused player from the match. When neither would remove Flemmings, the Loyal officially forfeited with a 3-1 lead.
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