News broke this morning that Legion FC have confirmed a deal with Jamaican international Junior Flemmings. While this news may come as a surprise to some considering his ongoing situation from last year that ultimately led to his departure from Phoenix Rising, Flemmings will look to regain his confidence both on and off the pitch, and ultimately bring success and positivity to Birmingham at the same time.
Flemmings signed with Phoenix Rising FC in 2019 and the winger bagged sixteen goals and seven assists in his first season with the team, finishing eighth in the league for the Golden Boot behind teammate and Golden Boot winner Solomon Asante.
In Flemmings’ second season with Phoenix, he captured his own Golden Boot by scoring 14 goals in a COVID-shortened season. Phoenix was propelled to a first place finish in Group B in that time.
However, some upsetting controversy surrounds the Jamaican’s soccer career. On 30 September 2020, while playing for Phoenix, Flemmings was accused of using the Jamaican homophobic slur, “batty boy,” against openly gay San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin. The Loyal, up 3–1 up to that point in the match, walked off the field in protest and consequently forfeited the match. Although Flemmings denied using the slur via social media, he was suspended for six games and issued an undisclosed fine by the USL Championship for use of foul and abusive language. In addition, Phoenix Rising team officials placed Flemmings on administrative leave for the remainder of his contract term with the team, which concluded on 30 November 2020.
Fast forward to January 2021 and Flemmings is signing for Legion FC. While this move may be a bit concerning for Birmingham Legion administration, staff and fans, it should be viewed as a positive opportunity for both involved parties, the club, and Flemmings. The growth of every individual within Legion FC is valued both on and off the field, and while this decision may seem concerning to some, I personally believe that all people deserve a second chance, especially if they possess enough talent to help a team achieve success.
“Legion FC, and every individual associated with the club, strongly condemns all racial and homophobic comments and actions,” said Jay Heaps, Legion FC president and general manager in a press release. “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.”
Heaps added, “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 [San Diego player] Collin Martin and [San Diego Head Coach] 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.”
“I am very sorry about the incident with Collin Martin,” said Flemmings. “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 Soehn and be a part of Legion FC’s strong locker room culture.”
While the past cannot be erased or rewritten, Flemmings and his new teammates will receive several opportunities from Birmingham-based LGBTQ+ organizations, including sensitivity training and education.
Legion FC stated that all within the organization are “committed to bringing ongoing attention to social issues and to supporting diversity and inclusion.” It certainly helps having leaders such as Mikey Lopez, an activist within the LGBTQ+ and minority communities, speak so often about the importance of love, respect, and passion within the community.
“As a team, we believe in second chances and in opportunities for growth as people and as athletes,” said Lopez in the press release. “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.”
Let’s hope that Flemmings is truly willing to learn from his mistakes and make the necessary changes to slowly mend his public image. On the field, he is clearly one of the best in the USL, so that is something for everyone in Birmingham to get excited about. Only time will tell, but I will certainly wish this man the best and support his current endeavors.
Welcome to The Magic City, Junior, Hammer Down!