The San Diego Loyal—a soccer team in the second-division USL managed and partially owned by former USMNT star Landon Donovan—walked off the field while leading 3-1 in their game against Phoenix Rising on Wednesday night, alleging that midfielder Collin Martin, who came out as gay in 2018, was called a homophobic slur by an opponent. The incident comes a week after the Loyal’s previous match, in which opposing player Omar Ontiveros said the N-word at Loyal player Elijah Martin—an offense that led to Ontiveros’s departure from the LA Galaxy reserves.
ESPN posted and helpfully captioned a video of a dispute between the managers and the referee from Wednesday night that sheds at least some light onto what happened with Martin and Rising midfielder Junior Flemmings, who is accused of using the slur:
The trouble began when Martin was red-carded at the end of the first half. However, at the start of the video, the official says that he’s rescinding that card because he mistakenly believed that, when Martin repeated what he thought was said to him, he was in fact hurling anti-gay abuse himself.
At that point, Loyal player Tarek Morad enters the frame and tells Phoenix Rising manager Rick Schantz, “Your player called my gay teammate a batty boy. You’re not dumb, you know what that means.”
(The word is censored in the above video, which is annoying for anyone trying to get a clear idea of what was said, but The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter reported that Flemmings, who is Jamaican, is accused of using that specific homophobic insult.)
Presented with this information by Morad, Schantz reacts in perhaps the most exasperating manner possible, first asking Donovan, “What the hell’s his problem?” Here’s the rest of the exchange between the two coaches:
Donovan: Rick, this is beyond soccer.
Schantz: Come on man, don’t make a big scene.
Donovan: We have to get this out of our game.
Schantz: It’s got nothing to do with racism.
Donovan: It’s not racism, they’re calling him gay.
Schantz: They’re competing.
Donovan: It’s homophobia.
Schantz: How long have you been playing soccer?
Donovan: [in disbelief] You’re better than that.
At this point, the ref cuts in again, saying that the game will go on as if nothing happened, because while he heard the reaction to the alleged insult, he didn’t actually hear the phrase “batty boy” or any other offensive comment from Flemmings. Donovan then says that he’ll go talk about the situation with his team, adding, “If you don’t send him off, we’re probably not playing.”
After halftime, according to an explanation video posted by the Loyal late last night, Donovan says that he reiterated the ultimatum, but the referee responded that he couldn’t send off the player. Donovan then asked Schantz to sub out the player, and he refused. The Loyal then left the field, and their match, which the team needed in order to make the playoffs, was ruled a forfeit.
The Rising and USL officials are currently investigating the incident, but after the game, Flemmings proclaimed his innocence on Twitter. Calling the accusations against him false, the Rising player wrote, “I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included,” and added “I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement.”
Donovan’s longer explanation, posted about 90 minutes after Flemmings denied using the insult, gives more insight into where his team was at, mentally, just a few days after one of their players received racial abuse. The Loyal and Rising, he even said, had a demonstration planned for the 71st minute in response to that incident, but obviously that did not happen because the game ended after just 45.
“I know what this team has gone through, I know how hard it was for them to even take the field last night given everything that happened, and then for it to happen again a week later was just devastating,” he said.
“They were kicking Phoenix’s ass, and that’s a great feeling as a soccer player,” he added. “But if we want to be true to be who we are as a club, we have to speak, and we have to act.”