Reggae Boyz forward, Junior Flemmings has inked a one-year deal with Birmingham Legion in the United Soccer League, with the Deep South franchise stressing it believed in “second chances”, against the backdrop of a controversial ban slapped on the player last season for a homophobic slur.
The free-scoring 24-year-old was not re-resigned by Phoenix Rising at the end of last season, following the six-match ban in October for aiming abusive language at San Diego Loyal’s Collin Martin, the league’s only openly gay player.
Legion president, Jay Heaps, said the club had reached out to those associated with Flemmings, and had also consulted with Martin and Loyal head coach, Landon Donovan, before proceeding with the deal, which has an option of a second year.
“Legion FC, and every individual associated with the club, strongly condemns all racial and homophobic comments and actions,” Heaps said.
“We understand the importance of inclusion, respect and the impact our words have on those around us. We also believe that second chances provide opportunities for growth.
“Prior to moving forward, we had extensive conversations with Junior and his former coaches and teammates to better understand his character on and off the field.
“In addition, we spoke with Collin Martin and Landon Donovan to get their perspective on Legion FC giving Junior this opportunity.
“Lastly, we needed to look inward and make sure Legion FC has the appropriate structure in place to help our players as people, teammates, athletes, and accepting members of the community.”
Flemmings lashed in a league-topping 14 goals last season to fire Rising FC to the Western Conference title, before the final was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He did not feature in the playoffs, however, serving the first four matches of a six-game ban.
His 29 regular-season goals in his two campaigns in Phoenix were the most in the league.
Flemmings, who has been capped ten times by Jamaica, said he was grateful for the opportunity to redeem himself.
“I am very sorry about the incident with Collin Martin,” said Flemmings, who will sit out another two matches of the new season to complete his ban.
“I understand the impact words have, and I will work hard to improve my on-field demeanor even in the heat of battle. I am grateful for this opportunity as I believe Birmingham is a great place for me to grow both on and off the field.
“I am excited to play for coach (Tom) Soehn and be a part of Legion FC’s strong locker room culture.”
Legion captain Miguel Lopez said the team was ready to welcome and support Flemmings.
“As a team, we believe in second chances and in opportunities for growth as people and as athletes,” Lopez noted.
“We have a tight locker room at Legion FC, so if Junior continues to learn from this and comes in ready to work hard on the field, our group will support him.”
Flemmings has also played for Tampa Bay Rowdies and New York Red Bulls II, and has netted 51 goals in his USL career.