Story at a glance
- The San Diego Loyal forfeited a game midway through after an opponent used an anti-gay slur.
- The United Soccer League issued the player, Junior Flemmings, a six-game suspension and undisclosed fine for "foul and abusive language."
- The league is providing training and education for all staff and players on diversity and inclusion issues.
Phoenix Rising's Junior Flemmings is suspended through the United Soccer League (USL) Championship Playoffs after directing a homophobic slur against an openly gay player on the San Diego Loyal soccer club.
“Prejudiced language and bigotry has no place in sport or anywhere else for that matter,” said Berke Bakay, governor of Phoenix Rising FC, in a joint statement with the Loyal that did not mention homophobia directly. “The on-field events of Wednesday’s match could not be more contrary to the values of our organization. Bringing both clubs together to fight prejudice will undoubtedly lead to great things. We look forward to the implementation of these educational programs and hope that they can serve as a model for our league.”
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Loyal coach Landon Donovan led his team off the field immediately after the incident involving midfielder Collin Martin, who is openly gay. In response to outrage online, the Loyal issued a statement calling for a second chance and asking that Flemmings, who initially denied using the slur, not be terminated by the club.
We seek to forgive, educate and inspire. We ask those that support our stand to please be respectful with Junior Flemmings, Rick Schantz and the entire Phoenix organization.#SDLoyal #RisingTogether pic.twitter.com/fUKkEokXIQ— San Diego Loyal (@SanDiegoLoyal) October 3, 2020
In a video on Twitter, Martin said, “I never had a word said to me like that. I felt personally attacked.”
After an investigation involving nearly a dozen players, coaches and match officials, the United Soccer League issued a six-game suspension and undisclosed fine to Flemmings that will keep him out of the playoffs.
"We’ve received affirmation and an outpouring of support following our actions these last two matches," Warren Smith, co-founder and president of San Diego Loyal, said in the statement. "The purpose of our stand was to raise awareness, spread love and eliminate hate in all forms. 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."
The league also recently announced a partnership with the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, providing leaguewide sensitivity training and education for all staff and players ahead of the 2021 season.
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