By forfeiting two games in protest, San Diego Loyal SC takes strong and necessary stance against hate
Eric Boose / Sports Editor
Last week, among the NBA Finals and baseball postseason, a second-division soccer team in its first year of existence made headlines by walking off the field. In doing so, they threw away a 3-1 lead in a game they had to win to stand any chance of making the playoffs. They were praised for doing so.
Late in first-half stoppage time, Phoenix Rising FC’s Junior Flemmings reportedly used a homophobic slur against San Diego Loyal SC’s Collin Martin. Martin is openly gay. The referee, arriving at the scene late, mistakenly thought Martin was calling his opponent gay and issued him a red card, leading to multiple chaotic minutes which resulted in this tense discussion between match officials and head coaches Landon Donovan (San Diego) and Rick Schantz (Phoenix).
A week earlier, in Los Angeles, an LA Galaxy II player used a racial slur against San Diego’s Elijah Martin, who is Black. Following the game, Loyal SC issued a statement declaring the team’s decision to forfeit the 1-1 draw in protest of that racist act. Before the Phoenix game, Donovan said that had he understood what was happening at the time in L.A., he would have pulled his team from the field that very moment.
After halftime, both Phoenix and San Diego took the field, but shortly after the referee blew his whistle to start the second half, every member of Loyal SC walked off the field in protest, forfeiting their 3-1 lead, and any chance of making the postseason.
This was different from players taking a knee at the beginning of a game. This was a team walking away in the middle of one of, if not the best performance of their entire season. And while it was unequivocally the right thing to do, the situation still feels very wrong.
Clearly, Elijah Martin and Collin Martin were wronged. In neither moment was the player who abused these men reprimanded in any way. It is very easy to wonder what would have happened had Elijah or Collin not say anything about it. Surely, this is not the first time they have been targeted in a game, let alone their lives. How many times have players gotten away with being racist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful in a game?
However, it feels as though the entire San Diego team has been wronged. They forfeited not one, but two games in a row because of what an opposing player did. It seems especially unjust that the teams, who have sacrificed next to nothing despite their player being the one in the wrong, will both go on to appear in the playoffs, while Loyal’s season is over. San Diego may have the moral high ground, but Phoenix and LA could finish their season with a trophy. It does not feel fair to do the right thing yet watch others be rewarded.
As a fan of both this team and this game, I am hurting. It hurts to watch a team you support turn its back on a great victory, even when you know it was the right thing to do. It hurts to watch teams seemingly get away with doing the bare minimum after the fact. It hurts to watch the players you support be subjected to abuse because of their identities. It hurts even more to have every reason to believe it could happen again.
Let me be clear: the racial abuse leveled at Elijah Martin, the homophobic abuse leveled at Collin Martin, bigotry, and hate in any form have no place in the game of soccer. They have no place in any sport, nor in any corner of our society. What happened to Collin and Elijah was plainly wrong and unacceptable. But while San Diego’s players, coaching staff, and executives all deserve praise for how they handled the situations, they should never have been in those situations to begin with.
There are no winners here. You can praise San Diego, yes, but that is not enough. There has to be action. By refusing to participate in games where hateful words are spoken or hateful actions are done, San Diego Loyal is doing what it can to ensure that such hate is scrubbed out of the beautiful game. But they cannot do it on their own.
Social justice and sports have never been separate. That fact is clearer now than ever before. And we as fans cannot ignore things that we used to. You cannot support a team without simultaneously supporting the values it stands for; that line is now long gone. San Diego has made its values clear. In this reality, you have to consider what your club stands for and whether you stand with it. The Phoenix fans who called on the club to conduct an investigation in good faith were doing the right thing. The fans who swore to cancel their season ticket memberships in the heat of that moment were doing the right thing. In fairness to Phoenix, the club is softening its originally staunch defense of the player, and they deserve praise for trying to turn the situation into a learning opportunity for players and staff involved.
San Diego Loyal’s actions prove that sports are not just a game. Fans have to pay attention. We have to kick hate out of the sports that we love.
The views expressed in the editorial and op-ed sections are not necessarily those of The USD Vista staff, the University of San Diego, or its student body.