By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Last season when the Phoenix Rising Football Club went up against the San Diego Loyal, the match ended up with San Diego forfeiting after a Rising player made a gay slur against openly gay player Colin Martin. The homophobic player, Junior Flemings, has since been dumped by Phoneix and manager Rick Shantz was suspended for mishandling the incident during the match, despite Loyal coach, Landon Donovan voicing his concern.

Since that day, Rising RF General Manager, Bobby Dulle sought out to make changes to his organization so that such an incident would not occur again. This included inclusivity training and partnerships with LGBTQ+ organizations, including the You Can Play project and Phoenix Gay Flag Football League.

“Six months ago, Phoenix Rising came out to our field and we provided some education with them,” says the league’s commissioner Jesus Godinez. “And we let our players have a roundtable discussion with some of the leadership of Phoenix Rising.”

In exchange for their help, Rising FC invited the Phoenix Gay Flag Football Leagye to play their championship game on Rising FC’s brand-new stadium at Wild Horse Pass.

“Not a lot of people know the statistics that go into gay athletes,” says Godinez. “For them to care about that, and learn about that, and try to change that narrative that no matter where you come from, how you identify, your gender on that field, you’re an athlete just like anyone else.”

In addition, Rick Shantz also has taken steps to make amends for his own reaction to the incident. In an interview with Outsports he explained,

“I’m starting to understand how the LGBTQ community has been treated, from laws and government to sports environments, and it’s a whole different world,” he told Outsports. “When you change from tolerance to acceptance, it’s a big step. And I want to go from acceptance to someday being a real ally. But before that, I know I have a lot of amends to make.”

Schantz has also connected with Colin Martin.

“I want to embrace him as another soccer player, a competitor,” Schantz said. “And I think the best way to respect him is to treat him like any other player. He’s been an unbelievable ambassador because he’s handled this withth with such class and grace. The most mature person in all of it has been Collin Martin. I’ll shake his hand and wish him well.”

The Phoenix Rising FC and San Diego Loyals FC played their season opener last Friday, with the Rising beating the Loyal 4-1.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons