SAN DIEGO — When the San Diego Loyal walked off the field during the final match of the year, they made a statement rarely seen in professional sports.
“If this is who we want to be as a club and standby our values,” Loyal manager Landon Donovan said, “This is what we do.”
The team walked off the field at the second-half kickoff, forfeiting a game they were winning at the time, 3-1.
Team President Warren Smith said, ”We believe that if we see something, we in society have to speak up and act.”
The walk off was a stance against social injustice. Just before halftime, a member of the opposing team used a homophobic slur against openly gay loyal player Collin Martin. Similar to a week earlier, when an opposing player used the “n” word against the Loyal’s Elijah Martin, an African American, the officials and opposing coach did nothing to discipline the offending players.
“We don’t want to be complicit or part of a game where that happens,“ Donovan said. “The only option at that point was to say we don’t want this game even recognized.”
Collin Martin and Elijah Martin, who aren’t related, say they each received a phone call from the offending player and both accepted their apologies.
”For someone who isn’t gay, have some compassion,” Elijah said. “You’re not in their shoes, you don’t understand what that word means to them.”
“He apologized, I accepted that apology,” Collin said, “And I think it’s good for both of us to move forward.”
Smith wants inappropriate slurs eradicated from the game. He says the answer starts with league-wide education in the preseason.
“These are 24-year old kids,” Smith said. “We have to remember they’re not seasoned in life.”
Donovan says offenses should be handled with more proactive discipline during the match, and if appropriate, penalties for the club after the match.
“If a club gets punished too,” Donovan said, “I can promise they will be more productive trying to prevent this behavior.”
Time will tell if walking off the field becomes a benchmark in the fight for social justice. Regardless, the San Diego Loyal’s hope is to impact more than just the sport of soccer.
“If we can rid the game of these things,” Smith said, “I think we can rid society of it as well.”