USL Championship: Rick Schantz reinstated as head coach for Phoenix Rising's conference final

Rick Schantz will be back on the sidelines as the head coach of the Phoenix Rising for the USL Championship club's match against El Paso in Saturday's Western Conference final.

Schantz had been placed on administrative leave and missed the first two games of the playoffs. His suspension followed the match against the San Diego Loyal, which forfeited the game rather than return for the second half with a 3-1 lead after Rising star Junior Flemmings directed a homophobic slur at the Loyal's Collin Martin, an openly gay player.

In a halftime discussion with the officiating crew, Schantz questioned why Loyal coach Landon Donovan was making a big deal of the remark. Donovan said his players won't play the second half unless Schantz pulled Flemmings.

The move for Schantz's return was set in motion, the Rising said in a statement, by Martin, who expressed his support for Schantz's return after the Rising coach and his leadership reached out to him personally.

“Rick has apologized to me personally and I accept that apology as genuine,” said Martin. “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."

Schantz apologized for how inappropriately he handled the halftime situation, which was captured on video.

“I realize how damaging my actions were not only to Collin Martin, who I have personally apologized to, but also to my team, the league and the LGBTQ community,” said Schantz. “I should have immediately acknowledged and denounced any anti-gay language. I am disappointed in myself and I’m committed to becoming a better human on this issue in the future. I’m working with and listening to LGBTQ community and sports leaders to develop a personal growth plan, as well as team-wide inclusion programs, so I can become an active ally to the LGBTQ community. This is a long-term commitment that I take very seriously.”

During Schantz's absence, the Rising won all three games under interim coach Blair Gavin.
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