U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan walked his United Soccer League team off the field Wednesday after a player on the club’s opponent team allegedly hurled a slur at an openly gay player.
The incident took place when the San Diego Loyal, which Donovan co-owns and manages, played the Phoenix Rising in the final game of the season. The anti-gay slur was allegedly directed at Collin Martin, who is openly gay, at the end of the first half. Video caught Donovan and Rising manager Rich Schantz getting into a heated argument before the teams took their halftime break.
At the start of the second half, Loyal players walked onto the pitch, took a knee, and then walked off in protest.
“Our guys, to their immense credit, just said ‘We’re not going to stand for this.’ 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,” Donovan said after the game.
The USL released a statement on 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. 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 league said.
Junior Flemmings, the Rising player accused of saying the slur, denied the allegations. He said his teammates would back him up on the claim and the referees did not hear a slur.
“At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin,” Flemmings wrote. “I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included.”
Phoenix added its own statement: “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. 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.”
Last week, San Diego Loyal SC was involved in a similar situation. LA Galaxy II player Omar Ontiveros hurled an anti-gay slur at a Loyal player and was later released by his club.
Martin came out as gay in June 2018 when he was playing in Major League Soccer for the Minnesota United. He was the only openly gay player participating in professional male sports in North America at the time.