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'It’s About Acceptance': Phoenix Rising Coach Reinstated After Homophobic Slur Incident

On their way to their league’s conference finals this weekend, the Phoenix Rising Football Club made news Wednesday by reinstating their head coach after suspension — and by relinquishing the right to host a possible championship match.

Head coach Rick Schantz was placed on administrative leave earlier this month as the United Soccer League looked into an incident in which he defended a Rising player using a homophobic slur in a game last month.

An emotional Schantz said he was wrong and has learned a difficult lesson about tolerance.

"It’s more than football," he said. "It’s more than just about soccer. It's about acceptance,and it’s about making a difference in the world. I think the players once they understood that and heard the message from our owners, that they were proud to be a part of it."

Schantz was criticized for dismissing the complaints of Collin Martin, an openly gay player on the San Diego Loyal, who accused the Rising's Junior Flemmings of calling him a derogatory name. Flemmings, who denies using the term, has been suspended and put on administrative leave for the rest of his contract.

The Tucson native has apologized personally to Martin and told the website OutSports he was on a listening tour to better understand the LGBQT community.

“It’s been an awakening," Schantz told the website. "It’s really opened my eyes. I feel like I can be a better human being if I learn more things about the LGBTQ community. It’s become more important to me every day."

Schantz, who missed three games including two playoff matches, fought back tears when talking about his family's reaction to his suspension.

"My daughter was scared. Is dad a bad person?" he said during a media availability on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Rising fared well without him and have advanced to play the El Paso Locomotive in the USL's Western Conference Finals on Saturday.

However, if they make it to the league's championship game the following week, the Rising won't be playing at home at Casino Arizona Field in Scottsdale. That's because their opponent, the San Diego Loyal, walked off the field in protest in the game last month, giving Phoenix the victory and the points needed to secure the home pitch. The club has forfeited the right to host the title game as a penalty for the slur incident.

Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.