Gay college soccer player Sam Johnson says at least one fan of an opposing Southern California NCAA team hurled a gay slur at him during a recent match against a conference opponent, and now he and the schools involved are taking action.
On Sept. 8, Johnson and the Whittier College men’s soccer team were playing at Occidental College. Johnson told Outsports that Occidental fans were given a space on the track, in front of the stands behind the home team, to watch the game. He said those fans, allegedly mostly male students, scanned the social media accounts of the Whittier players and harassed them throughout the game about social-media posts. The comments allegedly included jabs about the Whittier players’ girlfriends.
Johnson entered the game in the 75th minute of the match and played on the side nearest the home crowd. He said the fans quickly began commenting on him being “skinny.” Shortly after that he claims one of the fans called him a “faggot.”
“I’ve never been so uncomfortable on a soccer field in my life,” Johnson told Outsports. “I just have never been so rattled, so uncomfortable, and I wanted to get off that field as soon as I possibly could.”
Johnson said his biggest disappointment is that he has always considered the soccer field a refuge from the problems in life, including his concerns about being gay before he came out. He wrote his Whittier application college essay on his experiences of the soccer field being the place he felt most comfortable and equal as a gay man.
“What bothers me isn’t that the Occidental fans weren’t cheering on their team,” Johnson said, “but that they were berating my team the entire game. You can find a happy medium, but there was nothing positive about their team the entire time. They were just trying to make it difficult for us to play.”
Rob Flot, Vice-President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students for Occidental College, said the host school is treating the alleged incident seriously.
“I was made aware of the incident in question early this week,” Flot wrote to Outsports last Thursday. “Since that point we’ve been working to support the individual who alerted us to the alleged incident, and, we’ve also been investigating the allegations. We have been in communication with individuals at Whittier as part of the process.”
Occidental College has not hidden publicly from the allegation, Tweeting this encouragement to Johnson:
Sam, we regret that you had this experience on our grounds — thank you for bringing this to our attention. We want to make clear that this does not reflect the values of Occidental, Occidental Athletics, or the Men's Soccer Team. We will DM you about further steps you can take.— Occidental Athletics (@OxyAthletics) September 10, 2018
Occidental College has had at least one openly gay male athlete: golfer Will Mansfield.
Siobhan C. Skerritt, M.Ed., Director, Student Rights & Responsibilities/Lead Title IX Investigator for Whittier College, declined to comment on the incident.
Right after the incident, Johnson wasn’t sure what he wanted to do about it. Sweep it under the rug? Handle it privately? Johnson decided to talk publicly about what happened for the same reason he came out publicly two years ago.
“Going all the way back to sharing my coming out story, I have just wanted to impact one person,” he said. “And if something can be understood so this doesn’t happen to another athlete in our conference that’s what I want.”
Johnson said his teammates, as well as team staff and coaches, have all been completely supportive of him as a teammate and have supported him entirely throughout the aftermath of this incident.
“I’ve never had a problem with my team. It’s probably the most supportive group of individuals I’ve ever been around.”
Since the incident, the Whittier men’s soccer team has gone 2-0 outscoring their opponents, 9-2. It’s the team’s first two-game win streak since 2015.
You can follow Sam Johnson on Instagram @_sammyj_, or on Twitter @Sam_Johnson_.