On Friday, June 19, Juneteenth, a group of black Major League Soccer players has formed a coalition to address racial inequities in the league and across soccer.
Named the Black Players Coalition of MLS, the organization also will try to positively impact communities across the country.
The coalition started as an Instagram group that began after the murder of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death began a wave of nationwide protests against racism and policy brutality.
The group, which was started by Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow, has 70 MLS players.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were free. President Lincoln had freed the slaves in his Emancipation Proclamation two years prior.
During a video conference call on Friday, Morrow said players were already under stress because of the COVID-19 pandemic when they were threatened with a lockout during contract talks. MLS suspended play March 12 because of the pandemic.
“And then on top of that charge, George Floyd is killed. And so it kind of felt like my world was crumbling. And when I reached out to my black soccer player peers, they all felt the same way,” Morrow said on the call, according to the Associated Press. “When we came together on that call, it was the most hopeful thing in one of the darkest weeks of my entire life.”
The coalition has three goals: to give black players a voice in the league, to encourage black representation in the players’ association and higher levels of MLS and to help local communities.
“We’ve already come to the table with Major League Soccer and had conversations with them about things that we’d like to see changed,” Morrow said. “We want to see action. These slogans, these statements are no longer enough. We want real change. So what is that going to look like in Major League Soccer? What is that going to look like in our communities? And how are we going about that?”
New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Portland Timbers’ Jeremy Ebobisse, Chicago Fire’s CJ Sapong, Nashville FC’s Jalil Anibaba and Colorado Rapids’ Kei Kamara are in the group.
During a conference call on Thursday, Johnson talked about systemic racism that he has seen in the league and even in locker rooms.
On occasion, Johnson 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 MLS Players Association immediately gave the coalition its support.
“We are proud to support and stand with the Black Players Coalition of MLS and salute the great work that has been done by its members,” the organization said in a statement. “We are clear, however, that the change that is needed in our sport cannot come from the BPC alone. Real change must come from within each one of us, and each of our organizations.
“For the MLS Players Association, this means listening, asking questions and internal reflection. It means re-examining our mission, our organization, and our structure. Finally, it means ensuring that the same work is done across our industry both domestically and internationally, by FIFA, by the federations, by the leagues, by individual players and other players associations, and by our fans.
“We must set aside our fears and defensiveness. We must seek to understand and change our misconceptions and shortcomings. We must actively work to be a part of this change. The MLSPA proudly and humbly accepts the challenge that the BPC has presented, and we look forward to working hand in hand to make our sport and our communities a better reflection of all of us.”
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