It’s a moment in sports that will resonate with the LGBTQ community for years to come.
Collin Martin, the out gay soccer player for the San Diego Loyal, reports to game officials and his club that he was called a gay slur by an opponent. The team manager, soccer legend Landon Donovan, addresses the referees and the head coach for the opposing Phoenix Rising, Rick Schantz, asking that the offending player be removed.
“Come on man, don’t make a big scene,” Schantz said, dismissing the impact of the gay slur on the gay athlete.
The referee says he doesn’t understand the slur, and suddenly Donovan and his players are left with a decision to make. His team goes to the locker room for halftime. When they come out, the players take a knee.
Up 3-0, the Loyal support Martin, walk off the field and forfeit the match.
Hollywood has rarely written a story quite like that.
The repercussions were heard across the sports world. Schantz, for his casual approach to calling a gay athlete a gay slur, was suspended by the team. The offending player, Junior Flemmings, was suspended by the league for the rest of the season and fined, despite publicly claiming he did nothing wrong.
While the Loyal’s playoff hopes ended with that forfeit, the Rising ultimately forfeited the points earned in that match, ending their chances of hosting the USL Championship match (they earned a spot in that match, but it was abandoned due to a COVID-19 outbreak).
Positive steps came from all of it. There was another clear reminder for the need to address homophobia and anti-gay language in soccer, and in particular the United Soccer League, which includes 32 teams across the United States.
Schantz and the Rising made public commitments to make sure nothing like this involving their club ever happened again. While sometimes these commitments ring hollow, in a conversation with Schantz and from statements from the team, it’s clear they know with one more strike they will have even bigger problems.
And Martin saw his platform as the rare out gay man playing professional sports elevated. He used that platform to magnanimously forgive Schantz and chart a path forward.
“Rick has apologized to me personally and I accept that apology as genuine,” Martin said in a statement at the time. “We all come to our education on issues at different times, and he is beginning to understand the pain and disappointment he caused his team, the fans and the LGBTQ community.”
For all of this — the handling of the homophobic slur by Loyal management and players and the sacrifice they made to stand by their gay teammate — this has been named Outsports’ Moment of the Year.
NFL LGBTQ Inclusion Video: In American sports, the NFL is king. So when the league released an LGBTQ-inclusion video in October to celebrate National Coming Out Day, airing it online and during Fox game telecasts, it was a big deal. The video featured not just former out gay and bi players, but also non-LGBTQ players like Rob Gronkowski and DeAndre Hopkins expressing their support. The video continued efforts the league has been putting forward in recent years to build an environment in and around the league where people in and around the NFL are comfortable coming out publicly. Currently there is one coach — San Francisco 49ers assistant Katie Sowers — and various team and league staff who are publicly out.
Outsports is unveiling the 2020 honorees every day through Wednesday, Dec. 30.