Jamaican striker Junior Flemmings has denied making a homophobic slur against an opposition player in a United Soccer League match this week, but has agreed to take administrative leave pending an investigation into the matter.
The contest at San Diego’s Torero Stadium erupted after San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin – an openly gay player – was given a red card on the stroke of half-time with the hosts up 3-1 against Flemmings’s Phoenix Rising FC.
Martin subsequently accused Flemmings of the anti-gay slur as play was halted and after Phoenix refused to remove their leading forward, San Diego abandoned the game by walking off.
“At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin,” Flemmings subsequently tweeted.
“I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included.”
Phoenix manager Rick Schantz, who has also taken leave but unrelated to the investigation, said he had received conflicting information at the time of the incident but had chosen to back his player.
“I work with this young man every day, I was in a serious quandary,” he explained.
“I have one person yelling at me saying this is what happened and I have a player denying what happened. And I just chose to – I had to support my team and support our players.
“If it comes out that he did say that or he said something disparaging, I think that’s reprehensible and I’m deeply sorry to the player, the fans and all those that are affected.”
San Diego manager Landon Donovan, the former US national star, said the fact his side were ahead in the game and closing in on a playoff spot had been irrelevant.
“They were very clear in that moment that they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs even though they were beating one of the best teams in the league handily,” he stressed.
“But they said it doesn’t matter, there are things more important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in. So they made the decision to walk off.”
In a statement, the USL said it condemned any such homophobic actions but would carry out an investigation into the matter.
“We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in [Wednesday’s] match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC. Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches,” the statement said.
“An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”
The 24-year-old Flemmings, who has made a handful of appearances for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, is the USL’s leading scorer with 14 goals for the campaign.
Rising has already qualified for the playoffs by virtue of winning Group B while San Diego lie third and have been eliminated from playoff contention.