If you have been following us for awhile, you will have noticed that we haven't released any Phoenix Rising content since the match against San Diego. For me, this has not been a protest, but more, a sense of disenchantment. I know it's not just me either, because as described last week, at least in the first half, Casino Arizona Field had all the atmosphere of a balloon with the air let out of it, as I described on Twitter. Before I get started, I would like to apologize to the regular readers of this article, as I know about 50 or so people actually look forward to this religiously each week now, which is an incredible honor. I also want to apologize to @Risingfan1 on Twitter, who I promised I would answer some tactical questions for, but my mind just has not been on tactics these past few weeks. Finally, I want to apologize to the great guys on the SacTown FC podcast, as I intended to break my silence on their show the other night, but ended up with a flat tire that prevented me from making the recording.
Before I get started on the article itself, I first want to explain that I am going to be breaking it into three specific parts. The first part will be about "What Phoenix Rising Football Club Means To Me", and all of the reasons I hold the club in such high regard to begin with. The second part will be what has happened over the past 11 days that have specifically disappointed me, and why. The third and concluding part will be about what I would like to see from the club that would go a long way, with not only me, but I think a majority of the PRFC fanbase.
What Phoenix Rising Means To Me
I figure that there was no better time than now for me to catch up on an assignment that I missed out on a few months ago (which apparently cost me a chance at a team signed jersey). That contest was What Does Phoenix Rising Mean To You? Well, in short A LOT. You see, some people are casual sports fans, and then there are sports fans, and then there are people like me. I went to my first Phoenix Suns game when I was 8-years-old, and since then have attended hundreds of games for every sports team in town. However, in that 30-plus-years, there is only one that I have ever become a full season ticket holder for. That of course is Phoenix Rising Football Club. Now, to just be a season ticket holder is one thing, but since attending my first game on June 29, 2018, I have taken my love for this club to the extreme.
Now, as my friend and co-founder of this website Arran Airs can attest, I have always been a guy with a great interest in the game of soccer, but not necessarily a great understanding of it. Up until that point, my involvement with the game consisted of watching the World Cup every 4 years, and watching Arsenal whenever I happened to notice they were on TV. I understood the mechanics of the game on the pitch, but even basic concepts like the UEFA Champions League were, well, foreign to me. When I attended my first Phoenix Rising match I couldn't have even told you what league they played in, but that didn't matter because the moment I got to the grounds I knew that I had found my home.
That first night was a dollar beer night, and due to the line I didn't reach my seat until about the 10th minute, but was just in time to see Chris Cortez (whom I have amazingly gotten to know and have on the show 3 times so far) score the only goal of what would be a 1-0 Phoenix Rising victory. I loved every minute of it, the smoke, the flags, the drums, the chants, and since that night I have been to just about every match. So inspired was I by attending that match that I fully immersed myself in learning every detail of the game that I could, and by November we had recorded and released our first podcasts, and player interview with Scott Brown of Accrington Stanley.
When we started Across The Pitch, I had two goals in mind. The first was to help American sports fans like myself to better understand the European, and specifically English game. The second was to provide unique and in depth coverage of our two flagship teams, Accrington Stanley, and the other being of course, our home town Phoenix Rising. In the 2 years since, we have done more than I could have ever dreamed in terms of accomplishing those goals, and as I mentioned at the top, the fact that people look forward to hearing what I have to say about the club every week is the most tremendous compliment that I can imagine.
In that time I have slowly undergone a metamorphosis from fan to media in the sense that my times attending the games have included significantly fewer dollar beers. This season I have also made the move from standing in the South End to standing atop the press box and chatting with professionals like Jake Anderson and Owain Evans to learn as much as I can, and better our coverage. When we talked to John Hall of Dekalb County United, he said that he considered them a semi-professional team even though nobody is getting paid, because that is the level they are aiming for. We are much the same here at Across The Pitch, I consider us to be a semi-professional website because even though we aren't making any money yet, we are aiming to give a professional level of coverage.
These reason I say that, is because that is my level of investment. When I write these match preview articles, it means that I have spent my whole week consuming every piece of Phoenix Rising knowledge I can find, recording coach Schantz's weekly calls, watching and attending matches, not to mention the 6 to 8 hours that goes into actually writing the article, making graphics, publishing it etc. The preview I wrote for that San Diego match came in at 2690 words (one of my shorter recent efforts), and I love every minute of doing it because I believe in trying to give my club a level of semi-professional coverage that other clubs don't have. As you can imagine, putting all of that effort in, only to see a match get walked off at halftime felt a bit like getting stabbed in the heart. I can only imagine how it felt for someone like photographer Ashley Orellana, who I understand, payed her own way to San Diego for the purposes of photographing the match.
The reason I do this, and I am sure the reason that any of us who are involved in covering the team do this is because of our love and passion for the club. That is also why, earlier on that very day, I had announced on our episode that my planned winter project is to write a book about the history of the PRFC, and how fantastic it is (a project I still intend to do). And, when you love something as much as we all love this club, forgiveness comes pretty easily. All of that being said, it is not so much the events that happened at the San Diego match, but the aftermath that has made forgiveness more difficult.
What Disappoints Me About The Situation
I am going to get a bit personal here because it is necessary. There have been a lot of opinions on the situation, and I don't know for sure who is right, but I know that a lot of people are wrong. If you are one of those people who is making excuses that it is just "trash talk" or any form of that argument then I don't really need to explain why you are wrong. However, if you are of the opinion Junior Flemmings and Rick Schantz should simply be thrown into the trash heap because they made a mistake, then you are wrong too. I am be no means excusing their actions, but to err is human, and I am a person that believes in 2nd chances, and that people can learn and grow from their mistakes. More simply, I just find it hard to believe that people on social media who are calling for Rick Schantz to be fired over a video of the worst 30 seconds of his career have never made a mistake in their life before. If they haven't, then they are a better man than I, because I have made plenty of mistakes. And this is where it gets personal.
I can attest to mistakes because just yesterday I ended a 7-year-saga that was due to a mistake a made in 2013. A much worse mistake than Junior Flemmings or Rick Schantz made, but also one that many people make and can relate to. I would even guess that a percentage of the people on social media calling for Flemmings an Schantz to be cancelled have made this mistake too. I got a DUI.
For financial reasons I didn't get my license back for a number of years, and as of yesterday I finally had the interlock device uninstalled from my car. For 7 years, I paid for that mistake including jail time, fines, losing my car, and it was all deserved because I made a mistake. The thing about a mistake like that is once it's done, you can't take it back. All you can do is serve your punishment, learn from it, not make it again, and encourage others not to make it themselves.
The thing that you can do to make it worse is to try to hide from, or make excuses to avoid responsibility. Without getting into all of the details, I will stick with the ones that are important to this analogy. The night I got the DUI, I wasn't operating my vehicle at the time I was arrested, I was out of gas, across the street from a gas station fishing my gas can out of the trunk. Now, of course I was driving before that, or I wouldn't be with my car alone by the gas station 2 miles from my house, and of course I was planning to drive back home after I filled up my gas. And I admit this even though if I wanted to I could technically say something like "I was drunk by my car, but I wasn't driving it". That wouldn't make anything better though, it would just be making it worse because it would just be my way of avoiding taking responsibility for what really happened.
So far, with the statements released by Junior Flemmings and Phoenix Rising, it feels a bit like they are admitting to being drunk by their car, but saying they weren't planning to drive it. And that is what bothers me. Now look, I know with cancel culture that admitting fault to anything can be tough, but you know what, if someone is going to cancel me or stop reading me because I made a mistake in the past, and admitted to it my article then I can live with that. I would rather be honest, and also know that those people didn't really ever care about me to begin with. That would be my first message to Junior Flemmings. While the truth might be difficult, and some will react harshly, the people the genuinely care about you will appreciate it.
What I Would Like To See
If Phoenix Rising were some NFL or Major League Baseball franchise, I probably wouldn't care as much about all of this because it would just be par for the course with major corporate leagues. But with Phoenix Rising, they are a community club, whom I hold in the highest regard, so in that sense, I expect a bit more from them in terms of community relations. In terms of fan treatment, they are the absolute best in the business as I have written about numerous times in this space.
For whatever reason, in this situation. It seems like they keep dropping the ball over and over again. And this is where we get to the "standing by my car drunk analogy". In Junior Flemmings initial denial statement he said "I was accused of making a homophobic statement towards a San Diego Loyal player... This accusation is false". In the subsequent investigation the USL says it proved that Flemmings said it, but could not confirm he said it to Martin. Then, in Tuesday's media session GM Bobby Dulle would only confirm the same wording. What this all adds to for me is that they are basically clinging to the notion the Flemmings original statement wasn't a lie if he didn't say it "to Martin".
At this point, who cares? He said it, and it's unacceptable to say period, not only not ok if the person he said it to happened to be homosexual. What I care about, is having Junior Flemmings sit down and say something along the lines of "I had a lapse in judgement, I said a word that has no place on the pitch because it is hurtful to people, I will not make this mistake again, and work towards making sure that other people understand why it is also important not to do so." That is all I would really ask for. If that is more than Junior is willing to do, I respect that, but would prefer that in that case he continue his career elsewhere. I am a Junior Flemmings fan, and want to be again, and in a situation where I felt he was willing to genuinely accept responsibility for his actions, and apologize publicly, then I would welcome him back to the club with open arms. If this apology never comes, and he is still offered another contract in November, then I would probably still support Phoenix Rising, by my opinion of the club would be forever damaged.
I have not talked much about coach Schantz, but would like to wrap up with my thoughts on his situation. Coach is someone that I have gotten to know a little bit over the past 2 years, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to. The one time I interviewed him in person, he mentioned that he had listed to the show which is an amazing compliment from someone in his position in itself. During the weekly media sessions I am usually on record only mode and working my day job, although I do thank Jake and Owain for occasionally throwing in my questions. Therefore, I have not gotten to really interact with coach directly that much. He has also not been on the show, however, there is always an open invitation.
As I said above, I think coach got put in a bad situation that was amplified by the fact that the worst 30 seconds of his career got aired for everyone on Sportscenter. I don't claim to know him well enough personally to speak for his character, but I will say that I don't think that 30 seconds was a good representation of the guy that I've heard speak to us for 30 minutes every Tuesday. I think it is clear with his reaction to the situation that coach Schantz is guilty of what I would describe as "out of date thinking" for lack of a better word. This isn't meant as a euphemism, or excuse, but just the best description I can come up with. The bottom line is regardless of context, "it's part of the game" was an absolutely unacceptable thing for him to say. However, this is exactly the type of mistake that is a learnable, correctable situation, and from what I understand coach Schantz is taking steps toward making himself better to not make these mistakes in the future. Assuming that he stays that course, and at some point provides a similar full admittance and apology statement that I would look forward to seeing him walk the sidelines for many for PRFC victories.
And by the way.