If Phoenix Rising FC win their semifinal match this Saturday, they will not host the USL Championship despite having the right to do so.
That’s the big takeaway from an announcement by Rising leadership today, saying that it would be inappropriate, and disrespectful to the LGBTQ community, for the club to host the game when it was homophobia that handed them three key points that put them atop the standings.
As you may remember, on Sept. 30, the Rising “beat” the San Diego Loyal when the Loyal coaches and players walked off the pitch in the second half of the match in response to one of the Rising players — Junior Flemmings — allegedly calling Loyal player Collin Martin a gay slur. Martin is one of the few publicly out gay male professional athletes in the world.
That forfeit “win” gave the Rising three points in the standings, which put them ahead of their two potential opponents, Louisville City FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The club is essentially abandoning those points, putting them behind Louisville and Tampa Bay.
While they technically can’t vacate the win, that’s essentially what their option to relinquish championship hosting rights does.
“The USL supports Rising FC’s decision, appreciates its commitment to the community and has approved its request for forfeiture of hosting rights,” the league said in a statement.
Over the last couple of days the Rising have come under fire for potentially benefitting from the club’s refusal to address the homophobic language during the match. It was the decision by manager Rick Schantz to not sit Flemmings after the slur was brought to his attention that led the Loyal to walk away. Flemmings has been put on administrative leave by the club through the season, and Schantz has been suspended.
“While our dream has been to host a USL Championship Final in Phoenix, the integrity of our Club and city comes first,” said Phoenix Rising FC governor Berke Bakay. “If we are fortunate to prevail over a very strong opponent in El Paso Locomotive and earn a position for our team to play in the USL Championship Final, we would prefer to shine a positive light on our commitment to the LGBTQ community and amplify the need for acceptance and equality in professional sports.”
As Bakay said, this may all be moot as the Rising still have to get past the Locomotive this Saturday. Still, it’s a positive acknowledgement the Rising has made that the club benefitted from its mishandling of an allegation of homophobia, and they do not want that hanging over them.
It’s this kind of action — concrete and consequential — that sends a message to players, coaches, managers and fans that homophobia will not be tolerated.