Manager Landon Donovan and the San Diego Loyal entered their game Wednesday night against the Phoenix Rising expecting both teams to join together in a protest against bigotry.
Instead, a Loyal player allegedly became the victim of an on-field epithet for the second time in two weeks. And they chose to forfeit the game, possibly costing themselves a shot at a playoff berth.
“I have tremendous pride in this group, and I’m really proud of this organization, that I get to be a part of it,” Donovan said.
Last week, San Diego’s Elijah Martin was the victim of a racial slur in a game against the Los Angeles Galaxy II, which ultimately led to Omar Ontiveros being suspended by the USL and cut by the Galaxy.
Donovan said, in a video posted by the club, the Loyal players then contacted members of the Phoenix team and reached an agreement that in the 71st minute — when the previous week’s incident had occurred — the teams “were going to stop the game, we were going to hold a banner together that said ‘I will speak, I will act.’ Because we don’t want to just talk about it. We want to do it. And we wanted to send a message.”
The game never got that far. Because near the end of the first half of the Loyal-Rising game, with the Loyal leading 3-1, San Diego midfielder Collin Martin was issued a red card. His teammates protested, and Martin approached the fourth official on the sideline and explained he had been the victim of an anti-gay slur. Collin Martin came out as gay in 2018.
“When I heard that, I lost it,” Donovan said. “Because I know what this team has gone through. 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.”
A video of the discussion between Donovan, the referee and Rising coach Rick Shantz was posted in which the official acknowledges hearing the term but explaining he did not understand its meaning.
“It means gay,” Donovan said.
When Shantz was heard asking Donovan not to “make a big scene,” Donovan replied, “We have to get this out of our game.”
As the referee and Donovan were discussing the issue, a Loyal player approached Shantz, said what he’d heard from the Rising player directed to Collin Martin, and said, “Don’t act dumb. You know what that means.”
Donovan ended the exchange by declaring that if the player were not removed, the Loyal likely would not participate in the second half.
“It was a really difficult 20 minutes,” Donovan said. “Because our players in the heart of the moment, and the passion of the moment, still wanted to play. I mean, they were kicking Phoenix’s ass, and that’s a great feeling as a soccer player. But if we want to be true to who we are as a club, we have to speak, and we have to act. So after halftime, we all decided that if the player who used the homophobic slur was not removed from the game — either through the officials or through their coach — we were not going to play.”
Donovan said he then asked Shantz, who declined to withdraw the player.
“Our guys, to their immense credit, just said: We’re not going to stand for this,” Donovan said. “They were very clear, in that moment, they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs. … They said it doesn’t matter. There are things more important in life, and we have to stick up for what we believe in.”
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