By Gregory Bryce
The Jamaican international and Phoenix Rising player, Junior Flemmings, has received less than stellar attention in the last few days after he was accused of using a homophobic slur during a match last Wednesday in the United Soccer League (USL) against the San Diego Loyals.
The player who accused Flemmings of using the homophobic slur, Collin Martin, is the only openly gay player in the league.
Martin alleges that during an encounter with Flemmings on the pitch, the Jamaican used the slur towards him. Martin then went to report the incident to the referee, who mistakenly showed Martin the red card, believing he was the instigator.
Following the incident, head coach of the San Diego Loyals, Landon Donovan, asked the Phoenix coaching staff to take Flemmings off the field. When that did not happen, the Loyals decided to forfeit the match and walked off, despite being in the lead.
After the match, Flemmings denied the allegations on Twitter, saying that, “At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin. I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included.”
Despite his denial, however, the incident was investigated by the USL and Flemmings was found guilty of using ‘foul and abusive language in the form of a homophobic slur’ and has been suspended for six games (the rest of the 2020 USL season) as well as an undisclosed fine.
Flemmings has also been placed under administrative leave by his club.
The incident could not have happened at a worse time for the young footballer, who was enjoying a stellar run of form leading up to the match. In fact, Flemmings had just been awarded the USL Player of the Month award for his performances in August and was recently celebrating his milestone of scoring 50 career goals in the league – which he unironically scored against the San Diego Royals.
Flemmings has also won the Golden Boot awarding for scoring the most goals in the regular season, with a tally of 14 goals from 14 games. Despite winning the accolade, however, it was not announced by the USL due to Flemmings’ suspension.
There have been calls online for the player to be banned from the league indefinitely and some are of the belief that Flemmings should have his contract terminated by his club. At this time, Phoenix Rising has decided not to release Flemmings from his contract, but has made a statement about his future at the club.
“In addition to serving the suspension imposed by USL, Flemmings will remain on administrative leave for the remainder of his existing contract term with Phoenix Rising which concludes November 30, 2020. The team 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,” Bobby Dulle, the general manager of Phoenix said on their Instagram post. “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.”
Interesting to note from that statement is the fact that while Flemmings will not have his contract terminated by the club, there has also been no news about a contract extension – something which was rumored to be in the works due to Flemmings’ stellar performances.
Phoenix has confirmed that Flemmings will be undergoing sensitivity training while seeing out the rest of his contract on leave, as reported by the Gleaner, but his future beyond that point is still unclear.
The popular opinion, and the one that is very likely due to the statements being released at this point, is that Flemmings will be ushered out of the team without a new contract come November 30, despite the support that he has received from the club.
Weighing in on the situation, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) released a statement expressing disappointment in Flemmings’ actions but sees this as a ‘teachable moment’ for other players.
“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 JFF stated.
This incident could be a career-defining turning point for Flemmings, who is a considered a hot prospect for both the USL and Jamaican football hierarchy.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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