As MLS geared up Wednesday for its first game since the coronavirus pandemic halted the league, players from across the league used the opportunity to make a statement.
Representatives from multiple teams took the field prior to the Inter Miami-Orlando SC game as members of the Black Players for Change initiative, a group formed on Juneteenth this year that’s “working to bring more inclusion across all of MLS. Here to elevate and amplify our Black voices and Black communities.” Once on the pitch, members organized themselves in unison, raising their right fists in the air and sporting black gloves. The demonstration lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds–the same amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd before killing him in late May.
Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow, who serves as executive director of the Black Players for Change, told Drake Hills of The Tennessean that the group wanted to use this opportunity to send a clear message.
“We were very adamant that this message and this protest came from us and it was authentic,” Morrow said Wednesday, adding that the message is “purely about standing up for our brothers and sisters in this fight for racial equality and human rights.”
Morrow said there were originally going to be about 170 Black MLS players participating in the demonstration, but some were not able to participate due to personal or health concerns.
The group’s 12-member board was formed in the days following Floyd’s killing at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25. Morrow hopes the group’s efforts will extend beyond the present moment and continue to drive conversations and change within the MLS community.
“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 credited the league with helping to facilitate logistics surrounding the demonstration, and with enforcing social distancing protocols between clubs.
“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.”
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