Phoenix Rising rights ship for ‘positive change’ after tumultuous week
It’s been a tumultuous last week for Phoenix Rising FC.
In just seven days, PRFC managed to both lose its manager and the 2020 Golden Boot winner for the USL Championship playoffs while simultaneously clinching the No. 2 overall seed.
All of the aforementioned actions are direct results of Sept. 30’s match in San Diego in which Loyal SC forfeited while winning 3-1 at halftime after Phoenix Rising’s Junior Flemmings used a homophobic slur on the same pitch as openly-gay SD player Collin Martin.
On Tuesday, the league announced that Flemmings would be suspended for six games — one of which includes last Saturday’s regular-season finale against LA Galaxy II — after completing its investigation of 11 individuals that included players, coaches and match officials.
On Wednesday, Phoenix Rising general manager Bobby Dulle told reporters via Zoom that while USL can confirm that Flemmings used a homophobic slur, the league could not confirm whether or not it was directed at Martin.
“We accept those results of the league’s investigation and we remain committed to turning this important lesson into positive change for not only our club, but for the community that we live in,” Dulle said. “We wanted to let the process play out. We’re very respectful of the process and I think — whether that’s in our sport, in this situation or life in general — due process is important, so we wanted to let the process play out.
“We’ve said from the beginning we have confidence in the USL and we’re going to accept their decision and in this case, they came out with the results of the investigation into Junior. We’re going to accept what they’ve essentially levied and move forward.”
And because a trip to the USL Championship Final for Phoenix would only be the fifth game into Flemmings’ six-match ban, the Jamaican’s career in a PRFC kit may very well be over, as his contract expires with the club on Nov. 30. There’s also no telling how this will impact clubs from MLS, Europe and around the world that may have been interested in attaining Flemmings’ services prior to the incident.
“We’re going to use these next two months to work with Junior, support Junior and get through this moment and learn from it and educate not only ourselves but see how we can take this moment and move forward,” Dulle said when asked if the club was interested in re-signing Flemmings.
“No decision has been made. We’re kind of focused on the moment right now and supporting Junior through this. There will be a time when we have to make that decision, but his contract does expire at the end of November.”
Dulle didn’t give much insight into the future of manager Rick Schantz either, who is on a team-enforced administrative leave for his comments made to San Diego manager Landon Donovan on Sept. 30.
“I’ve spoken to Rick quite a bit. As we’ve said from the get-go of this unfortunate situation, we don’t throw people out at their lowest moments,” Dulle said. “Our club 1) wanted to let the process play out and 2) no matter what the results of the investigation, both Rick and Junior are fundamentally really good people and have good core values.
“We’re going to support them and use this as an opportunity to move forward. Rick is personally committed to that… we’re going to support Rick and Junior in this matter as we carry forward and hopefully all can be a force for change.”
Schantz released a statement on Monday night saying he had issued an apology to Martin, who had “graciously accepted that apology.”
“I have committed to taking specific steps that will help me recognize and change my conscious and unconscious biases, and to bring better understanding of LGBTQ issues to myself, the club, our players and the sport,” Schantz wrote.
“I’m working with LGBTQ community leaders to develop a personal growth plan that will include one-on-one counseling sessions with LGBTQ sports and community experts.”
Prior to last Saturday’s season finale against Los Dos, both Phoenix Rising and San Diego Loyal released a joint statement that the clubs have “committed to working together towards the development of educational programs where players, staff and supporters will meet to share their backgrounds and life experiences.”
“We do a lot of training at the beginning of the season with our players and our front office and our staff discussing our core values as an organization bringing in outside parties to speak to us,” Dulle added. “Those are things that we’re going to do and we’re open and willing to listen to each and every one because we can all learn from this.
“I think just further — whether it’ll be sensitivity training, bringing in guest speakers, getting out into the community and showing action — I think that’s really important for us to do as an organization.”