Manager Landon Donovan and his San Diego Loyal players walked off the field in protest at the restart of the second half of Wednesday's USL Championship match against Phoenix Rising in reaction to an alleged homophobic slur directed at former MLS player Collin Martin, who is openly gay.
The match was the final one in Loyal's inaugural season and the club was still vying for a playoff spot and leading Phoenix 3-1 at halftime. However, when the referee whistled the start of the second half, San Diego players, coaches and staff took a knee and proceeded to walk off the field in protest.
The alleged incident occurred at the end of the first half, leading to a heated discussion at midfield involving the referee and both head coaches:
USL issued a statement minutes after the incident, stating that it had opened an investigation:
The USL Championship issued a statement on Wednesday night regarding an incident during the first half of the contest between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC at Torero Stadium.
“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.”
Phoenix Rising player Junior Flemmings indicated in a postgame statement shared on Twitter that he was the player accused, calling the accusations "false."
Phoenix Rising issued their 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.
On Thursday Martin responded to the account provided by Flemmings, reiterating the specific homophobic slur directed at him and highlighting the response of his team:
A week ago, a San Diego Loyal player was the target of a racial slur by an LA Galaxy II player, Omar Ontiveros, who was subsequently cut by his club. Loyal also announced they would seek to forfeit the point earned from the draw against Galaxy II: "We don’t even want to recognize being a part of a match where these types of actions take place," read the statement from San Diego Loyal chairman Andrew Vassiliadis.
Donovan, who is SD Loyal's manager and EVP of Soccer Operations explained why the club sought to forfeit the match against Phoenix:
Martin, who developed in the D.C. United academy, announced that he was gay in June 2018, a few hours before the MLS team he played for at the time, Minnesota United, hosted Pride Night. At the time he was the only openly gay male athlete in the five major sports leagues and in the years since the announcement Martin has shared his story on multiple occasions and he serves as an ambassador for Athlete Ally.