US soccer team San Diego Loyal walked off the pitch during its match against Phoenix Rising on Wednesday in reaction to an alleged homophobic slur towards one of its players.
By walking off, Loyal forfeited the match and ended their chances of reaching the playoffs.
In the past soccer players and teams have talked of walking off the pitch when confronted with homophobic or racist abuse but Loyal’s proactive stance in a competitive game is a rarity.
The alleged abuse was directed at midfielder Collin Martin, according to the club, after he was issued a red card at the end of the first half, with the Loyal leading 3-1 in the second-tier USL Championship. The red card was subsequently rescinded.
Martin came out as gay in June 2018 while with Minnesota United.
Loyal’s manager, former US international Landon Donovan, was involved in a heated exchange with both the referee and Rising Phoenix coach Rick Schantz at half-time.
Loyal’s players returned after the break but walked off when the referee blew his whistle.
Rising’s midfielder Junior Flemmings later wrote on Twitter that he had been the player accused of using the slur but called the allegations “false.”
‘We have to act’
Wednesday’s incident comes after Loyal forfeited a match against LA Galaxy II last week after an alleged racial slur was aimed at another San Diego player.
The Galaxy and the player accused of making the comment “mutually agreed to part ways” according to a statement from the club.
In a postgame video statement posted to the Loyal’s Twitter feed, Donovan said Martin had brought the homophobic slur to the fourth official’s attention as the first half ended.
“We went through a really hard incident last week in the LA 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, who played for Everton in the English Premier League, said.
“I know how hard it was for them to even take the field tonight given everything that happened, and then for it to happen again a week later was just devastating for me.
“Our guys, to their immense credit, said we were 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.
“They said it doesn’t matter. There are things more important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in.
“If we want to be true to who we are as a club, we have to speak, and we have to act.”
Rising said the club is investigating the claim but that its player “vehemently denied” using the slur.
“Phoenix Rising stands with the USL in rejecting and punishing any homophobic behavior,” it wrote in a statement, posted to its official Twitter account.
Flemmings, the player accused, said he had been “mauled and ridiculed online with no opportunity to defend myself” and said he stood “in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement.”
“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 wrote on Twitter.
Collin Martin is yet to publicly comment on the incident.
In a statement, the USL Championship said it was aware of the allegation and was investigating the incident.
“Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches,” it read.
“An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”