Sensitivity training for Flemmings
Phoenix Rising FC General Manager Bobby Dulle says it is important that striker Junior Flemmings and other members of the club undergo sensitivity training after an allegation that he used a homophobic slur in a recent game.
Flemmings was given a six-match suspension and an undisclosed fine by the United Soccer League (USL) for an alleged Jamaican homophobic slur, which he strongly denied. Collin Martin, an openly gay San Diego Loyal midfielder, was said to be the victim of the allegation, during their USL playoff match last Wednesday, which Martin’s team forfeited at halftime despite leading 3-1.
Dulle told reporters in a press conference yesterday that the USL found no proof that Flemmings had targeted Martin but said it had enough evidence to believe he was still guilty.
“The results of the investigation from the USL [say that] they were unable to confirm that the slur was directed at anyone in particular, but they do believe that an inappropriate term or language was used on the field,” said Dulle.
Flemmings and his coach, Rick Schantz, have also since been placed on administrative leave by their club, which says it is still supporting him while it continues its own investigation into the matter.
“We don’t throw people out at their lowest moments,” Dulle said. “Our club, one, wants to let the process play out. Two, no matter what the results of the investigation, both Rick and Junior are fundamentally really good people that have good core values. We’re gonna support them and use this as an opportunity to move forward.”
Dulle says all staff at Phoenix had been given training involving various marginalised groups before the start of the season, but the club thinks it is important to revisit these lessons in light of the issue. He said Flemmings has also shown a willingness to play a key role in this.
“I do know that Junior wants to look forward,” Dulle told The Gleaner. “He wants to take this, just like we [do] as an organisation, as a learning moment. I do know that he has some things in mind that he’d like to do, but he just wanted to digest, he wanted to wait, he wanted to understand what the investigation and the league ultimately determined, and he wants to look forward in steps which include reaching out to Collin Martin and San Diego. [These] are things that he certainly expressed to me that he’d like to do.
“Whether it be sensitivity training, bringing in guest speakers, getting out in the community and showing action, I think that’s important for us to do as an organisation.”
Local opinions on the issue have been polarised, with some fans and pundits saying that athletes should adjust to different cultures and ideologies when working abroad. However, sports publicist Carole Beckford says it is important that local sportspersons learn about interacting with people of various backgrounds, whether they intend to work overseas, as discrimination is also an issue in Jamaica.
“All games have discrimination rules, whether it be for gender, age, or cultural slurs,” she said. “Once you participate in a sport that has an international base and appeal, the sensitisation and awareness must be brought about to the players. We can no longer make an excuse that because we’re in Jamaica, it’s okay.
“All international sports have those rules and athletes, coaches, managers, and agents must be aware of those things over and over and over again. They should inform themselves. We should do all the sensitisation that we need, but until our athletes and coaches and teams comply with those rules, they will continue to suffer the consequences.”
Beckford says Flemmings is being made an example of but believes he can and should learn from this experience.
“He’s still in the league, so I’m happy his suspension should be a lesson,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that in a time that so much information is available, this youngster, who I think is a bright prospect on and off the field, could’ve gotten himself caught up in this kind of a melee, but I trust he’ll learn from this experience, and he will use his brand to do some PR (public relations) with youngsters and peers.”
Flemmings also received the Golden Boot award yesterday for his 14 goals scored in the USL this season.