Collin Martin is the only active openly gay male athlete in major U.S. professional team sports. Why would he lie about being called a gay slur?
Phoenix Rising co-owner and former MLB pitcher Brandon McCarthy raised that possibility in a Twitter direct message Wednesday night, theorizing to a soccer fan that the San Diego Loyal’s decision to forfeit their game against his club was tied to a larger social statement. The sentiment is outrageous, if not downright offensive.
In the first half of the Loyal’s matchup with the Rising, Martin told officials he was called a homophobic slur by a player on the Rising. When the Loyal emerged from their locker room after halftime, every player took a knee, and then walked off the field in protest.
It was the second time in one week the Loyal had forfeited a game. Last week, they retroactively forfeited their contest against LA Galaxy II after one of their players had been called the N-word by an LA player. The decision cost the Loyal one point.
The immediate reaction from Phoenix manager Rick Schantz Wednesday was to deny and deflect. When Loyal defender Tarek Morad told Schantz his player, Junior Flemmings, called Martin a “batty boy” (a Jamaican gay slur), Schantz appeared agitated.
“What the hell is his problem?,” Schantz said to the officials and Loyal manger Landon Donovan.
The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter posted on YouTube the complete interaction at midfield between Schantz, Donovan and the officials. Schantz dismisses an increasingly passionate Donovan, at one point asking the six-time MLS cup champion and USMNT’s joint all-time leading scorer how long he’s been playing soccer.
Donovan says he asked Schantz to remove Flemmings from the game, but he refused.
Flemmings vehemently denies saying the slur.
The San Diego Loyal walked off the field in protest Wednesday night, saying a Phoenix Rising player used an anti-gay slur directed at openly-gay midfielder Collin Martin.
Manager Landon Donovan discussed the incident with the referee and Phoenix head coach Rick Schantz. pic.twitter.com/WlOYauQhgV
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 1, 2020
Late Thursday, the Rising announced both Flemmings and Schantz would be placed on administrative leave while they complete their investigation along with the USL championship soccer league.
On Wednesday night, the Rising said they are investigating the incident — and reject “homophobic behavior” — but added Flemmings “vehemently denies” the allegation. Three Phoenix players and staff confirmed to The Athletic they heard Flemmings direct the slur towards Martin.
The Loyal’s show of solidarity with Martin is laudable and should serve as the primary takeaway from this story. Male professional athletes forfeited a game to support an openly gay teammate, costing themselves a possible playoff spot in the process. That is a big deal.
Unfortunately, the Rising did not initially treat the matter in a similarly serious and sober way. Tellingly, members of the organization have backtracked since Wednesday, including Schantz, who said he asked Donovan about his soccer credentials in response to his behavior towards the officials.
The video, however, does not back that up. At the 34-second mark, Donovan tells Schantz “we have to get this out of our game.” Schantz tells Donovan “they’re competing,” and then says to him, “how long have you been playing soccer?”
While Schantz appeared to dismiss the incident, McCarthy got conspiratorial. A Twitter user named “Mike Dickerson” posted a direct message exchange with McCarthy, where the former hurler raised questions about the legitimacy of Martin’s accusation.
“They wanted to forfeit tonight’s match,” McCarthy wrote. “We only found out Mon night that we were playing. They wanted to continue their statement, then this happens. It’s the context behind things that we don’t understand.”
In a later message, McCarthy said, “I know how I look. It’s not good.”
When asked for comment by The Athletic about the messages, McCarthy issued a mea culpa.
“I was emotional and trying to give all context to what we knew at the time to go along with our player wholly denying having done anything,” McCarthy said. “Shouldn’t have said it and I fully understand how bad it looks.”
In response to this column, McCarthy called his actions “inexcusable.”
But the fact is, McCarthy did say it, despite expressing reservations in real-time about how bad it “looks.” This is disappointing, especially considering McCarthy’s history of support for the LGBTQ sports community.
For starters, the notion that the Loyal fabricated an incident to forfeit a game in which they were leading by two goals is absurd. In order to qualify for the postseason, the Loyal needed to defeat Phoenix Wednesday. It’s ridiculous to suggest they would sacrifice a potential playoff spot over something that didn’t happened.
In addition, and more importantly, McCarthy’s insinuation that Martin could be motivated to lie about being called a gay slur is personally insulting.
Since coming out in June 2018, Martin has played in nine MLS matches and 22 in the USL Championship. Before Wednesday, he never publicly accused an opposing player of using anti-gay language.
Anybody who’s been targeted by homophobic attacks knows the pain they can cause. As the only active openly gay male pro athlete in the U.S., Martin has an important platform, and sets an example.
Martin knows the seriousness of homophobia. It’s hard to fathom he would make up an incident to advance some sort of point, when his presence on the field is the most powerful message he can send.
In a statement, Martin said it was “truly moving” to see his teammates walk off the field in support of him.
My statement on what happened in last nights match. The response that followed from my coaches, teammates, and the entire @SanDiegoLoyal organization was truly moving. They had my back and wanted to make a statement that we aren’t going to stand for this hate in our game. pic.twitter.com/yhTxeL2XkC
— Collin Martin (@martcw12) October 1, 2020
As a team, the Phoenix Rising has a strong history of backing LGBTQ causes and initiatives. But the organization’s initial reaction to the incident was wrong, headlined by McCarthy.
There are ways to support your own player without questioning the motivations behind the accusation.
This story has been updated.