As you can imagine, media coverage on second-tier football in the USA is sparse, but a recent match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC was important for reasons far beyond football.
On the 30th September, Phoenix player Junior Flemmings used an alleged homophobic slur towards San Diego midfielder Colin Martin. Martin, who publicly came out as gay in June 2018, informed the match officials of the incident and what followed has ramifications for the entire sporting world.
Coach and co-owner of San Diego Loyal, Landon Donovan gave the referee and opposition coach an ultimatum. Either the abusive player is taken off by substitution or through a red card, or the Loyal’s walk off the pitch. At this point, I’d advise everyone reading to find the video of this exchange online, it perfectly documents the fiery moments leading up to this landmark moment. They walked.
It should be noted that San Diego were actually 3-1 up against Phoenix at the time, a massively unexpected lead in the fight for a playoff place. It was an amazing time for the Loyal’s to forfeit the game. In doing so, they lost any chance of qualifying for the play-offs, their season was over, and the players were well aware of this leading up to the decision.
Donovan and the rest of his players have showed us how far we still have to come in football to face up against bigotry, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination in our game. The decision to walk off at such a critical point shows clearly where our priorities should be. Football has a well-documented and long-lasting problem with homophobia, strong actions like this show the world that enough is enough.
Since the incident, reaction has been largely positive, with the two teams releasing a joint statement declaring that they are working together to develop ‘educational programmes where players, staff, and supporters will meet to share their backgrounds and life experiences’. This incident comes just one week after the Loyal player Elijah Martin was racially abused at another match.
In fact, both San Diego and Phoenix were actually planning to stop the game in the second half to hold a banner saying ‘I will speak, I will act’ after the racial abuse in the previous match.
What follows on from these events in terms of policy is currently unclear– but one thing is certain, San Diego have gained a Loyal fan in me.