Phoenix Rising FC player Junior Flemmings has been handed a six-game suspension and undisclosed fine following an investigation by the USL Championship into his alleged use of a homophobic slur towards San Diego Loyal’s Collin Martin.

The incident last week saw Martin and his head coach Landon Donovan lead the team in walking off the pitch in protest, causing the San Diego to forfeit the match and end their chances of reaching the playoffs.

Flemmings has denied using a homophobic slur, calling the allegations “false” on Twitter, though he has since deleted his account.

The USL, American soccer’s second tier championship, said Flemmings’ ban “for the use of foul and abusive language in the form of a homophobic slur … covers the entirety of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs.”

Martin came out as gay in June 2018 while with Minnesota United.

Flemmings remains on administrative leave and could face further punishment from his club, the USL said.

In a statement on the Phoenix website, General Manager Bobby Dulle said the club “accepts and supports the results of this investigation.”

Phoenix says Flemmings will remain on administrative leave for the remainder of his contract, which expires on November 30, 2020, and will provide him “with the resources he needs to learn and grow from this, so that he may become a model for change in our sport.”

“These actions could not be more contrary to the core values of our organization, and we apologize to all who were affected,” Dulle added. “We will use this as an opportunity to learn, grow and be a force for change, as we work towards eradicating bias from our sport and our community.”

‘Immense pride’

Last week, Donovan, the former US Men’s National Team captain, told CNN: “It’s an immense source of pride” to be able to coach Martin.

Donovan praised Martin and the rest of his team for choosing to walk off, something that is regularly spoken about in soccer when players are confronted with abuse, but rarely carried out.

“I’m not a gay man, so I can’t understand what he has been through in his life and it’s really easy for people like me, who are privileged, straight, White males to have an opinion on any of this, but none of us will ever know what it’s like for him and I just give him so much credit,” Donovan told CNN’s Patrick Snell.

“I am so impressed by him as a human being, first to have the courage to come out in a very macho sport, second of all to have the level of security he has as a human being and an individual and then just the way he handles himself on a day-to-day basis.

“It is an immense source of pride for me to be able to lead a young man like that.”

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