On Wednesday 30 September San Diego Loyal, who play in the second tier of the USL Championship, walked off the pitch in protest of the homophobic comment made towards Martin. They were winning 3-1 in the first half against Phoenix Rising when the accused player, Junior Flemmings, made the comment. Collin Martin alerted the officials, but was mistakenly sent off in the following on-field spat. This led to both managers heatedly discussing the incident and although the referee rescinded Martin’s red card, manager Donovan was sent off. The referee claimed to not understand what the slur meant.
Loyal players returned after half time, but after taking a knee on the pitch, walked off when the referee blew his whistle to restart play. The San Diego side’s decision to protest and forfeit the match cost them the chance of reaching this season’s play-offs.
After the Phoenix match, the Loyal said their players and coaches heard the homophobic slur, but neither the match officals or the Phoenix manager did anything in response when asked by Landon Donovan.
Former Everton and USA international, Donovan is the manager and executive vice-president of San Diego Loyals. The 38-year-old said of the incident: "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 play-offs, 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."
Donovan said his team "would not stand" for bigotry, adding "if (others) are not willing to act, then we have to act."
On Twitter, San Diego Loyal tweeted the following statement:
"In the first half, a member of Phoenix Rising used a homophobic slur directed at Collin Martin. In response, we decided to walk off the pitch in protest."
"Last week we made it loud and clear that we do not stand for racism or homophobia. Nothing has changed this week."
The team later added: "We will speak. We will act."
Indeed, Loyal experienced controversy in their previous game when they forfeited a match against LA Galaxy. This time their player, Elijah Martin, was the victim of alleged racial abuse.
However, Jamaican international Flemmings took to Twitter to rebuke the accusations and issued his own lengthy statement. He wrote:
"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. I stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ movement."
The USL Championship said it had been made aware of the allegation and an investigation would be carried out. They added: "foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches."
Flemmings has since been given a six match ban. Phoenix Rising said they "accepted and supported" the decision and apologised to all who had been affected by the incident. The 24-year-old has been placed on leave for the rest of his contract and given resources "so that he may become a model for change".