Major League Soccer promised its 25th season would be memorable, and it has.
The hype around two new expansion clubs and one of the biggest signings in league history was quickly washed away by the pandemic. Faced with challenges, the league was able to pull off the MLS is Back Tournament down in Orlando. But the most recent obstacle is the toughest because it has nothing to do with soccer.
As many continue to show solidarity, fight against systemic racism and social injustice, in the wake of yet another police shooting of a Black person caught on video, many are exposing their true colors. Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen did that Wednesday following players’ choice to protest and not play their games that evening. His comments were not only laced with the type of bigotry that’s at the very core of the issues, but they also reminded us that in sports, business is often prioritized over players’ voice.
“There’s enough there that we can all see that there’s a pattern,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley of past allegations of racism towards Hansen. “I don’t believe there’s a place for that type of leadership and ownership in our game.”
“It’s unacceptable. If MLS wants to show that they’re part of this change, they need to take swift actions,” added LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. “Everyone else has to deal with consequences, so does this guy.”
For as long as this shortened season lasts and beyond, the overlying message will grow stronger. That’s why the Black Players For Change coalition was formed. Those representatives were immediately on the phone with commissioner Don Garber following Wednesday’s protest, and while Kaye doesn’t want to disclose specific demands of the group before the league, he said they are looking for a very general commitment from the owners, for starters.
MLS announced Friday that play will resume, but there is a plan in place.
“We need people to start caring and changing their perspective, we’re all human beings. It’s a joke what’s going on in this country,” Kaye said. “For the U.S. to always claim they’re the greatest country in the world, and have this within your boarders happening, it’s not unified.”
Soccer was not discussed in LAFC’s press conference Friday. The back of the Black Lives Matter shirts players and coaches are wearing clearly state why: “This is not your distraction, it’s not your escape from real life.”
“For too long in this country, Black lives didn’t matter,” Bradley said. “Whether you wear the t-shirt, whether you stand for the national anthem, whether you kneel for the national anthem — those aren’t the important issues. The important issues are that we believe there must be change. It’s more than just a gesture, it’s finding real ways.”
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