On May 7, 2016, Romeo Parkes made himself famous. And unemployed.
In a game between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and New York Red Bulls II, Parkes gave the strong impression of wanting to paralyze defender Karl Ouimette. Enraged by something that had taken place between the two players, the forward unleashed a kick to the RBNY center-back's spine that was shocking to all who saw it. And a lot of people saw it, because that sort of on-field violence doesn't take long to go viral.
Early reports on the incident described Parkes as "inconsolable" afterwards. His head coach at the time, Mark Steffens, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the player was "bawling" in the locker room: "Mad at what he did. Mad at himself that he lost his cool."
He did a little more than lose his cool: he lost his mind and that caused him to lose his job. Within a day, his contract was terminated by the Riverhounds. USL followed with a season-long suspension. A couple of months later, FIFA weighed in with a world-wide suspension: Parkes was banned from soccer anywhere in the world where FIFA had a say (which is most places) until the end of October, 2016.
Parkes had started the 2016 USL season by scoring five goals in six games for Pittsburgh, showing the sort of form that one would expect to attract the attention of bigger clubs. With one moment of anger, he got the attention of the world - and put his career on hold.
If Ouimette had been seriously injured, it is possible Parkes' career would have ended almost instantly, but by the time FIFA handed down its ban, it was clear Parkes would play pro soccer again. He had a plan to return to his former club - Isidro Metapan in El Salvador - and that is what he did once he had served his suspension. Parkes has since scored nine goals in 29 appearances in the Salvadoran top flight - which is as many as he had managed for Metapan over three seasons in his previous stint with the club.
Karl Ouimette has moved on too. Fortunate to escape serious injury from Parkes' kick, he saw out the 2016 season on loan to Jacksonville Armada in NASL. He was released by RBNY at the end of the season, and landed with San Francisco Deltas, where he has been getting regular starts in the team's inaugural NASL campaign.
And that seemed to be the end of that: Parkes made a big mistake, suffered the consequences, took his career back a step to regroup; Ouimette moved on with his career also. It seemed unlikely we'd hear much about Romeo Parkes in US soccer again.
Certainly we wouldn't be hearing about Parkes in Pittsburgh. Riverhounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger told the Daily Telegraph he'd made up his mind to fire the player within 10 minutes of the "kick heard round the world". He told Telegraph reporter Bob Williams, "he won't be playing for Pittsburgh again - I can tell you that".
Shallenberger also described himself as a "hothead' in that interview, which might help explain his change of heart. In the comments he issued to the press on May 5, 2017 - just shy of a year after the matter that saw Parkes banished from Pittsburgh - the Riverhounds owner described how he had arrived at the decision to re-hire a player he had said would never return to his team:
Romeo has shown tremendous improvement and maturity as an individual and expressed remorse for his actions last year. I fully believe he is more than deserving of a second chance to help improve this club. I look forward to embracing his contributions to the Riverhounds organization both on and off the field.
Parkes apologized to everyone he could think of almost immediately, it seemed. He was reportedly crying in the aftermath of the incident. Whatever remorse Shallenberger wanted to see was surely evident almost as soon as the player landed in the locker room.
As for "improvement and maturity" - well, he is unquestionably older than he used to be, and there do not seem to have been any reports of on-field assaults involving Parkes from El Salvador. But he also diidn't seem prone to attempting to maim opponents before he landed in Pittsburgh. He would appear to have improved and matured back to the not-a-threat-to-his-fellow-players sort of guy he was thought to be before he lashed out at Ouimette.
All that to say that remorse, maturity, and "improvement as an individual" perhaps have less to do with Parkes' return to Pittsburgh than the simple fact that he's served his ban.
That and, as Megan Ryan wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette back on May 8, 2016 - the day after the assault that made Parkes famous for all the wrong reasons:
The Riverhounds have a history of second chances. Starting defender Willie Hunt returned to the team after an arrest for cocaine possession in October 2015 while with the North American Soccer League’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Despite the protestations of the team's owner in the heat of the moment, Pittsburgh is a club willing to forgive and perhaps forget.
Romeo Parkes seems happy to play his part in the theater of apology, offering a suitably contrite statement on his return to the scene of his crime:
It is with humility and excitement that I am returning to the Riverhounds. My main objective is to deliver quality soccer and exemplify sportsmanship, and have the opportunity to earn respect, both as a person and a soccer player. Not only have I learned my lesson, but I am more determined than ever to have a positive impact on my community, my team and to make a difference on the field.
He is reported to have signed a deal for 2017 with options for the next two seasons. The Riverhounds' next game is on May 13, against Ottawa Fury - Parkes is expected to be available to play.