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USL suspends Junior Flemmings for using homophobic slur

Flemmings’ season, much like the San Diego Loyal’s, is effectively over.

Jamaica v United States: Semifinals - 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Junior Flemmings
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

The fallout from the San Diego Loyal’s historic decision to forfeit its match against Phoenix Rising FC on September 30 continued Tuesday as the USL Championship’s investigation resulted in punishment.

The organization suspended Phoenix Rising FC’s Junior Flemmings, the player alleged to have directed a homophobic slur at the Loyal’s Collin Martin, for the remaining six games of the season. USL also fined him an undisclosed amount. The suspension includes all potential USL playoff matches.

In addition, the USL Championship stated that Flemmings could be subject to further punishment from Phoenix Rising FC itself, which the club enforced by stating Flemmings will remain on administrative leave through the end of his contract. His contract with Phoenix expires on November 30, 2020.

Phoenix stated that it “will provide Flemmings with the resources he needs to learn and grow from this, so that he may become a model for change in our sport.”

“These actions could not be more contrary to the core values of our organization, and we apologize to all who were affected,” said Phoenix Rising FC general manager Bobby Dulle. “We will use this as an opportunity to learn, grow and be a force for change, as we work towards eradicating bias from our sport and our community.”

Flemmings has continually denied using homophobic language toward Martin, who came out in 2018.

Last week, the San Diego Loyal knelt and walked off the field at the start of the second half of a match against Phoenix, after game officials and Phoenix manager Rick Schantz refused to remove Flemmings from the game. The forfeit ended the Loyal’s playoff hopes, but Loyal manager and co-owner Landon Donovan believed standing up for Martin, the only out player in men’s U.S. soccer, and eradicating hate from the game took precedence over a shot at USL glory.

“We made a vow to ourselves, to our community, to our players, to our club, to USL, that we would not stand for bigotry, homophobic slurs, things that don’t belong in our game.” Donovan said in a video released by the team.

Schantz remains on administrative leave, though Phoenix stated his discipline isn’t connected to the Flemmings incident.

The Jamaica Football Federation also weighed in on Flemmings’ suspension by reiterating its stance against the use of hateful and offensive language. “The JFF would like to make it clear that we abhor foul, abusive or discriminatory language,” the organization said in a statement to Loop News Jamaica. “We are indeed disappointed and we impress upon our players both locally and internationally, to be mindful of their expressions within and without a game.”

“Every player should use this incident as a teachable moment while they maintain professionalism even under pressure or provocation. We truly hope that Flemmings will quickly pick up the pieces and maintain the great scoring form if and when he is called to the national team.”

The Loyal, Rising and USL Championship share that desire to use the events of last week as a teachable moment. The league announced a partnership with The Institute for Sport and Social Justice on October 1 that will provide league-wide sensitivity training ahead of the 2021 season.

The two teams released a joint statement on October 3rd, committing to develop “educational programs” aimed at informing its personnel and players about unconscious biases and social justice. “The purpose of our stand was to raise awareness, spread love and eliminate hate in all forms,” said Loyal co-founder and president Warren Smith. “We believe in second chances and look forward to working with Phoenix Rising on productive ways we can forgive, educate, and grow from these moments.”