San Diego Loyal players walked off the pitch in protest after an alleged homophobic slur was used against Loyal player Collin Martin during their USL Championship match against Phoenix Rising on Wednesday.
Martin, the only out gay player in US professional men’s soccer, was sent off shortly before half-time and heard an alleged homophobic insult directed at him by Phoenix midfielder Junior Flemmings.
After the half-time break, Loyal players and staff – including their manager, United States icon Landon Donovan – returned to the pitch only to take a knee at the start of the second half before walking off the pitch.
Both Phoenix Rising and the United Soccer League say they are investigating the matter and released statements on Wednesday.
“We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in tonight’s match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC,” a USL statement read.
“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 co-owner Brandon McCarthy said Flemmings “unequivocally” denied using the slur, a claim which was backed up later on by the Jamaica international midfielder himself.
“This evening in our match against the San Diego Loyal I was accused of making a homophobic slur towards a San Diego Loyal player. This accusation is false and my fellow team-mates will support my claim,” Flemmings said on Twitter.
It was the final fixture in the Loyal’s inaugural season in the second tier of US football, with the California club still in the hunt for a playoff spot and leading Phoenix 3-1 before the incident.
The incident comes a week after the Loyal chose to forfeit a USL Championship match against LA Galaxy II after an opposition player used a racial slur.
Defender Omar Ontiveros was fined, handed a six-game suspension by the league and eventually cut from the Galaxy roster.