Last night, the USL’s San Diego Loyal walked off the field and forfeited their match against the Phoenix Rising when one of their players, Collin Martin, who is openly gay, had a homophobic slur directed at him on the pitch by another player. At first, the referee had red-carded Martin for his reaction to the slur from Junior Flemmings, though Flemmings has denied using the slur. When the ref rescinded the red card to Martin and explained to Loyal manager, U.S. Soccer legend Landon Donovan, what had happened and why the red card to Martin was being rescinded, Donovan huddled with his players during halftime to discuss what they would do.
This video of Donovan speaking to the refs and opposing manager Rick Schantz, who will probably be looking for a job soon, encompasses the whole problem with this kind of thing in sports in less than two minutes:
Schantz’s reaction of “don’t make a scene,” and “they’re just competing” is the entire problem. It’s sweeping it under the rug, it’s not a big deal, let’s not worry about it sort of attitude that soccer officials and managers have taken to incidents like this far too often. It’s not that Schantz is denying what went on, he’s just trying to minimize or even ignore the significance of it. “Boys will be boys,” is Schantz’s attitude here, which indeed is the entire problem. Donovan’s absolute staunch opposition to Schantz is what the sport needs more of.
Contrast Schantz’s nonchalance about a gay slur being used by one of his players and the Loyal forfeiting a game they really needed. With the forfeit, the Loyal will miss out on the USL playoffs.
Another reason the Loyal will miss the playoffs is that they forfeited their previous game against L.A. Galaxy II, the MLS team’s reserve team. During that game, one of the Galaxy II’s players called a Loyal player the n-word. Though that match was completed, San Diego decided to give up the point they’d gotten in the draw in protest, and days later Galaxy II released Omar Ontiveros, the player who used the slur. The Loyal were livid that L.A. coaches and officials heard Ontiveros say it, and did nothing about it.
Soccer has had a huge problem with racism and homophobia, especially in Eastern Europe and Italy, where attempts to walk off the pitch like the Loyal did have usually been rebuffed. It’s probably one thing for a team to walk off a USL match in an empty stadium and to try to halt a Serie A match with a full stadium, but in reality they’re the same thing. The Loyal’s actions should be held up by U.S. Soccer and FIFA as an example of what should happen going forward. But don’t count on it, this is FIFA after all.