Rising place coach, player on leave amid probe
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Rising placed head coach Rick Schantz and midfielder Junior Flemmings on administrative leave late Thursday night as an investigation takes place into allegations that Flemmings used an anti-gay slur during the team’s game Wednesday night against the San Diego Loyal.
In a statement posted to the Rising’s Twitter account, the team said its players and Schantz “participated in extensive interviews with the USL” on Thursday.
Flemmings was put on leave until the league’s investigation is over, the statement said, “so that he may focus fully on cooperating with the investigation.”
However, Schantz’s leave is “unrelated” to the investigation, the statement said.
“Phoenix Rising FC is actively anti-homophobia and anti-racist and has a zero-tolerance policy for actions which run contrary to these core values,” the statement read.
Flemmings leads the Rising with 14 goals in 14 games.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Loyal midfielder Collin Martin, who is openly gay, accused Flemmings of directing the anti-gay slur at him during Wednesday night’s match. San Diego walked off the field at Torero Stadium in the first half leading 3-1 after Martin was issued a red card by the referee.
In his statement, Martin wrote that he tried to explain to the referee that a slur was directed at him, but the referee “got confused and thought I called him gay — hence why I was mistakenly given a red card thereafter.”
Several Loyal players approached the referee and were visibly upset. One of the players could be heard saying, “We’re off the field. We’re not doing this again. F— that. We’re out of here.”
In the Loyal’s previous match, Galaxy II player Omar Ontiveros was suspended by the league, and ultimately cut by the team, after uttering the N-word in the direction of Loyal player Elijah Martin.
“Flemmings came over and told me that he knew of my ‘situation’ (I’m an out gay man) and that he didn’t call me a slur,” Martin wrote. “At this point it is clear to me he was backtracking and attempting to deny what he said. Why would he say that slur to me if he knew I was gay?”
Flemmings called the accusation false, saying his teammates would support his account.
“At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin. I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included,” Flemmings said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement.”
As Loyal coach Landon Donovan and Rising coach Rick Schantz discussed the situation with the referee, a Loyal player walked toward Schantz and said a Rising player directed a slur at Martin.
“Don’t act dumb,” the player said to Schantz. “You know what that means.”
Schantz released a statement on Twitter on Wednesday night denying that he was excusing the alleged homophobic slur.
“At the start of halftime of the Phoenix Rising FC match with San Diego Loyal FC, I was heard on video asking San Diego’s Head Coach Landon Donovan how long he has been part of soccer. My question was in reference to Donovan’s behavior on the field with the referee, and in no way was I excusing any alleged homophobic behavior from my players.”