Sean Johnson: “When you talk about systemic issues within the league, I’ve been in the league now for 11 years. I’ve seen a lot of those, a lot of those things rear their heads time and time again.”(Photo courtesy of MLS)

Today, FrontRowSoccer.com starts a multi-part series, looking at several soccer players’ experiences with racism — past and present — whether it was in their face or systemic. All stories have ties to Atlanta. New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson is from Lilburn, Ga. an Atlanta suburb.

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

During his 11 years as a professional soccer player, Sean Johnson might not have seen it all, but he certainly has seen and experienced much. And that includes plenty of racism, much of it systemic.

The New York City FC goalkeeper would like to see more non-playing roles in MLS open up for black players after they retire, whether it is coaching or in the front office.

“I think those things are going to be continually discussed moving forward,” Johnson said during a media conference call Thursday to preview the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando next month. “There’s obviously a lot of things. When you talk about systemic issues within the league, I’ve been in the league now for 11 years. I’ve seen a lot of those, a lot of those things rear their heads time and time again. It’s my hope that moving forward there’s certain initiatives that can be put in place, certain programs to provide more opportunity for black people within the league, black players within the league and also continue to find ways to address it at the community.

“It goes a lot deeper than just this league. It’s the communities that are important as well and making sure we address those systemic issues, that young black people have the opportunity and don’t have the disadvantage from the time they step foot into this world.”

When asked to give examples, Johnson cited the league again.

“You can start with the top on down,” he said. “You talk about diversity in Major League Soccer league soccer, opportunity being a black player and seeing just the amount of jobs, of equally qualified players coming at the end of their careers.

“With the commissioner, just opening the eyes and just having … shed a little more light on that, conversations and discussions surrounding that and that being brought to light essentially being downplayed or ignored, something that would be considered an issue.”

On occasion, Johnson, native of Lilburn, Ga. said that he has had to bite his tongue on possible comments he wanted to make in the locker room. He did not mention which team he was referring to. He also has performed for the Atlanta Blackhawks (USL Premier Development League) and Chicago Fire FC.

“As a player you talk about having the courage in the locker room of voicing your opinion at times,” Johnson said. “As a black man in America and as black man in the working professional world, getting your foot in the door a lot of times, you’re taught to keep your foot in the door. Once the door is open to you, all you can to make others comfortable around you so you’re not viewed as a issue, you’re not doing anything necessarily have yourself be taken back in your career.

“So, some of the experiences are outright. Some of the experiences have been withheld within as feelings as a black man, being a minority within this league for such a long time.”

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month has spurred protests in cities and communities coast-to-coast while educating people back the plight of black men and women.

“When you talk about everything that has been going on from a social perspective that there’s an awareness that specifically George Floyd has brought to the eyes of many. People have opened up their eyes and ears and really see what a problem in this country for such a long time. Being a black man in this country and experiencing so many things, so many situations … have been less than ideal. I’ve experienced racism, I’ve experienced being viewed as different from the first time when I meet people.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to have such a sacrifice in George Floyd in people to really start to become aware. So, it’s been a time where myself, other black teammates, other black friends around the league, black friends outside of the league have come together to really try to continue to push for actual change because that’s really the only end goal that we should be focused on is actual change. There’s been enough talk. Things really need to come about from this situation.”

Here are two related stories:

 

TOO CLOSE A CALL AT TARA: When Lancers’ black players experienced racism on and off the field in Atlanta in 1970

 

ADDRESSING RACIAL INEQUITIES: Black Players Coalition of MLS is formed