Players make their statement prior to the MLS is Back Tournament opener July 8. (Photo courtesy of MLS)
For many, 2020 will be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For others, it also will be remembered for players’ awareness and statements, verbal and non-verbal, especially in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Players in Major League Soccer, National Women’s Soccer League and both senior national teams made statements and their thoughts known in their support for social justice and social change.
Since the NWSL became the first professional league to return to action with its 2020 Challenge Cup opener June 27, the league wound up in the spotlight for many reasons.
While three goals in the final 15 minutes and stoppage time were undoubtedly the highlights of the match, a moment of unity between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns as they knelt during the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter was certainly one to remember.
A joint statement released by the two teams following the anthem read, “We took a knee today to protest injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against black people and people of color in America.”
When MLS returned from a March shutdown with its MLS is Back tournament in Orlando, players wanted to make a statement. They did so prior to the Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF opening match July 8.
Philadelphia Union center back Mark McKenzie and Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse were among those players who wanted to make a statement that would not only garner publicity but educate the public since Floyd’s death.
Black players wore custom designed T-shirts sporting the phrases “Silence is Violence,” “Black and Proud” and “Black All The Time.”
So, the two U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team hopefuls decided to add messages to their respective team jerseys, remembering victims of Black citizens who were killed by police.
Ebobisse used the slogan, “Say their Names,” with the names of the victims, while McKenzie and his teammates decided to replace their names on the back of their jerseys with the names of victims of police brutality.
Players lined up across the field. Their demonstration took eight minutes and 46 seconds, symbolizing the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of Floyd, who was murdered in Minneapolis on May 25. Players, wearing shirts with sayings such as “Black and Proud” and “Silence is Violence,” outlined the field while Miami and Orlando players kneeled on the outline of the center circle.
Every player raised his fist during a moment of silence, recalling the historic protest by U.S. Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.
“The importance of doing something in sports that’s bigger than ourselves, we have a platform here where we get to influence a lot of people,” McKenzie said. “We are doing that in way that’s encouraging change as leaders on the team. We want to make sure we got it across to everybody. We stood together. We made a decision as a collective to go on and wear the names of the victims on our backs. It encompassed the gravity of the issue at hand.”
Black Players For Change, which was unveiled on Juneteenth, consists of more than 170 players, coaches and staff from MLS teams to advance the attention on human rights inequalities from protest to programs, partnerships and policies that address systemic racism.
Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow explained why the group, originally called the Black Players Coalition of MLS, was formed. He said that players were already under stress because of the pandemic when they were threatened with a lockout during contract talks.
“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. “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 had 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?”
The organization was named the MLS Works Humanitarian of the Year by MLS.
In a stunning and unprecedented move showing solidarity, five Major League Soccer games were postponed Aug. 26, as players on 10 teams made a stand against racism, racial injustice and bigotry.
The announcement came in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. Blake has been hospitalized and paralyzed from the waist down.
The five games were:
* Inter Miami CF vs. Atlanta United
* FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids
* Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Football Club
* San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers
* LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders
In a statement, MLS said: “The entire Major League Soccer family is deeply saddened and horrified by the senseless shooting of Jacob Blake and events in Kenosha. We continue to stand with the Black community throughout our country — including our players and employees — and share in their pain, anger and frustration.
“MLS unequivocally condemns racism and has always stood for equality, but we need to do more to take tangible steps to impact change. We will continue to work with our players, our clubs and the broader soccer community to harness our collective power to fight for equality and social justice.”
During the walkout and anthem prior to its 1-1 international friendly draw with Wales Nov. 12, the U.S. men’s national team players spread their social messages.
The players had “Be the Change” adorned on the front of their anthem jackets. The word, STATES, was on the left side of the jacket, with the word UNITED eliminated.
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said he was “proud of the fact that the players came together and thought long and hard about how they want to activate for social justice. They came up with ‘Be the Change.’ If you saw the warm-ups and anthem jackets. The guys really take it serious and really believe that if we want change it’s up to the individual to take responsibility for it. So, it’s a great message and really proud of the guys in that moment.”
Each player was allowed to include a personalized message, representing something meaningful to them on the back of his jacket.
Before their international match against the Netherlands Nov. 27, a 2-0 victory, the U.S. women’s national team made their sentiments known with a message:
Black Lives Matter.
That’s what the team wore on the back of their warm-up jackets.
“We wear Black Lives Matter to affirm human decency,” a team statement said. “This is not political, it’s a statement on human rights. As a team, we work towards a society where the American ideals are upheld, and Black lives are no longer systemically targeted. We collectively acknowledge injustice, as that is the first step in working towards correcting it.
To honor the words of the great John Lewis:
When you see something that is not right,
get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble!
Black Lives Matter.”
The pandemic could become history in 2021 with the advent of vaccines, but the issue of social justice and ongoing statements is likely not going to follow suit.
Tuesday: National story No. 9