SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Loyal and Phoenix Rising players planned to pause their soccer match in the 71st minute and hold up a sign that said, “I will speak. I will act.”
It never got to that point.
Just before halftime Wednesday night, and with San Diego leading 3-1, coach Landon Donovan’s expansion Loyal walked off the field and forfeited their USL second division match after openly gay midfielder Collin Martin allegedly was called a homophobic slur by a Phoenix player.
It came a week after the Loyal asked to forfeit their 1-1 tie at the Los Angeles Galaxy II because San Diego’s Elijah Martin was called a racial slur in the 71st minute.
Donovan said there was no point in waiting until after Wednesday night’s match to take action, or to even get to the 71st minute and hold up the sign.
“If we’re going to say that, and if we’re going to wear armbands, and we’re going to wear rainbow-colored during June and BLM armbands and kneel before the games, that’s great. But when the real moment comes and we don’t act, then we’re all complicit,” Donovan said Thursday.
Had the Loyal continued with Wednesday night’s match and won, there was a good chance they would have made the playoffs.
Now, their season is over.
Donovan, the former MLS and U.S. national team star, said it was “alarming that it’s happened twice in back-to-back weeks. By the way, how many times has it happened where somebody didn’t say something?” he said.
“I know there’s a sentiment that, ‘Oh, it’s just a word, it’s not a big deal,’” Donovan added. “But my problem is, I sat in the locker room last night and watched Collin Martin with his head in his hands for 30 minutes, I mean, really heartbroken by all of this. Forget about, yes, the slur, yes, how everyone responded. You have to remember, he also feels bad because we now forfeited a game because of something that happened to him. He wants to play. He’s playing the best soccer of his life. He feels bad about that, too. He didn’t do anything. That’s a real human life that is being impacted.
“So to say, ‘It’s just a word, get on with it,’ Or, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s part of the game,’ that’s just not acceptable.”
Donovan said he felt walking off the field had more impact that beating Phoenix on the scoreboard.
“The problem is that the only way you make change is by doing something drastic,” he said.
The Loyal said in a statement that players and coaches heard the slur, but the match referees did nothing about it.
Martin issued a statement Thursday recounting the timeline of events. He said he had heard the slur before but never on the soccer field in his eight-year career. He also thanked his team.
“Their collective decision to walk off the field in solidarity and forfeit that match speaks volumes of their support for me and what this organization is standing up to,” Martin wrote. “Ultimately I hope this can be another example that we have a long way to go in educating ourselves and kicking hate out of our game.”
When the Loyal resumed play in July after the pandemic shutdown, the players wore alternate jerseys with “Black Lives Matter” on the back.
Donovan was unsure of any recourse from the league office and said he didn’t care if any was forthcoming. “No. Not in the slightest,” he said.
The USL said in a statement that it is investigating what happened and that “abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches.”
The league also said every owner, executive, player and staff member will undergo comprehensive sensitivity training ahead of the 2021 season, and that it is working with the players association and the USL Black Players Association to implement more severe punishments for anyone found to have used foul and abusive language.