The Black Players for Change made their first move Wednesday as a collective group, and the American soccer world watched it unfold. After assembling nearly 170 participants, they held a protest, lifting their right fists in the air, sporting black gloves, demanding social justice for Black men and women in America.
The Black Players for Change, which formally announced themselves on Juneteenth as the Black Players Coalition of Major League Soccer, were on the field prior to the first match of the MLS is Back Tournament as Inter Miami CF and Orlando City SC kicked off at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow, the coalition’s executive director, said more than 170 Black players throughout MLS were expected to participate, supplemented by Black coaches, club and league staff. The group was joined by Orlando’s and Miami’s kneeling protests at the center circle, as silence flooded the air.
The match was the first in MLS since March 8.
Morrow said the protest’s message is “purely about standing up for our brothers and sisters in this fight for racial equality and human rights.”
“We were very adamant that this message and this protest came from us and it was authentic,” Morrow told The Tennessean in a phone interview Wednesday.
However, Morrow said some players would not be able to participate in Wednesday’s protest because of personal or health concerns. Yet, the entire Black player pool in MLS contributed to the event.
Nashville’s Jalil Anibaba joined Morrow and 10 other Black players to act as the Black coalition’s board. It was formed in the immediate days after George Floyd’s death on May 25 when a white police officer kept a knee pressed into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. The Black Lives Matter movement soon took center stage around the country, but Morrow wants the conversation and action to continue within MLS circles.
“We’ve seen time and time again, the cycle of violence that happens in North America, where someone is killed – a Black man, or a Black woman is killed – and something else happens and people forget,” Morrow said. “It’s our responsibility to carry this message and make sure that (forgetting) does not happen again.”
Morrow added that the league played a large part in assisting with logistical details, particularly in organizing each car to transport Black players from each club represented separately from the Swan and Dolphin Resort to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Additionally, league officials helped enforce social distancing of clubs as well as managing the formation of the protest on the field.
There will be special signage about the coalition’s efforts and the league’s stance on racism posted around the fields at the complex. Players also will wear special patches during matches.
The Black Players for Change announced Tuesday their partnership with The Players Coalition, co-founded by former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin and New Orleans Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins.
“They expressed their interest and their excitement about us from the onset of our press release,” Morrow said of the partnership. “We couldn’t have hoped for better, right now, to have role models like that – to model ourselves off of, to piggyback on their social justice initiatives. It’s going to be a good partnership.”
As for The Black Players for Change, Wednesday’s protest is just the start, Morrow said.
“We’re quickly becoming a strong voice for the Black player pool,” he said. “But we know that we have a lot of work ahead of us to change the systemic racial problems that exist in Major League Soccer. We are there for that and we’re there for the long run.”
For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at [email protected] Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake.