PHOENIX – Following the announcement of Phoenix Rising FC voluntarily relinquishing home field advantage in the USL Championship Final if it advances, the team made another big decision and reinstated coach Rick Schantz.
Schantz was put on administrative leave by the club after appearing insensitive when Phoenix’s Junior Flemmings allegedly directed a homophobic slur toward San Diego Loyal defender Collin Martin, who is openly gay, during a match on Sept. 30.
Shantz has been absent from three games – the final regular season game and two playoff matches.
He said the period has been tough not only for him but his family.
“My daughter was scared, questioning if ‘Dad was a bad person’ but she is more mature than I am and grown up more accepting than I am,” Schantz said, choked up with emotion. “I need to learn from her and today’s society and catch up with the times.”
Martin was one of the reasons the Rising brought Schantz back, stating Martin’s support of not only Schantz but the Rising leadership group.
“Rick has apologized to me personally and I accept that apology as genuine,” Martin said in a statement. “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. I see no reason not to give him my blessing and an opportunity to prove that someone can change.”
Martin felt that the chance to prove he has changed and is an ally of LGBTQ community should be now rather than later.
“The sooner Rick is back working with his team and our league, the sooner he can begin his role as an ally in advancing LGBTQ equality and acceptance in professional sports,” Martin said. “His return is not the end of his personal growth, but rather the beginning, and he should use his position of influence now to help affect real understanding and change.”
Another major factor in his return is Schantz’s dedication to learn and grow, the team said. Phoenix Rising FC governor Berke Bakay saw the commitment Schantz had in developing a better knowledge of the LGBTQ community and the platform he has as head coach.
“During his administrative leave, Rick has dedicated himself to listening to members of the LGBTQ community and learning about the difference between tolerance and acceptance,” Bakay said. “I have witnessed a sincere commitment in him to use this public platform as head coach of our club to amplify the importance of equality and inclusion in professional sports.”
Those actions include speaking to Cyd Ziegler, visiting ally.org and reading their stories, meeting with the leader of the Bandidos and reaching out to many of the Rising fans directly. He plans to continue meeting many members of the LGBTQ community and local high school soccer teams to talk about his experience and inclusion.
The time off for Schantz has been a huge learning period for him.
“What I used to believe and think, I thought I was a good person and I thought it was OK,” Schantz said. “My mom has gay friends and I have gay friends; everyone says that. I learned that I was just tolerating and tolerating means that I am better than somebody else which is not the truth.”
The tolerating may have come from many years of not knowing the bias he may have had, he said.
“I feel it’s important for me to listen,” Schantz said in an interview for Outsports. “I have 46 years of unconscious and conscious bias to figure out and change.”
The reinstatement of Schantz does not mean that he is done with the mission to learn and fight for acceptance, he said.
“Now, I want to help fight for acceptance of LGBTQ community and I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go and it does not stop now that I have been reinstated,” Schantz said.
The Rising will face El Paso Locomotive at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Western Conference final. The winner will go on the road and face the winner of Louisville City FC versus Tampa Bay Rowdies on the road for the USL Championship.