The game we’ve fallen in love with and watch religiously is, once again, teaching us it’s bigger than the 90 minutes on the field.
It’s proven that during a pandemic, the game – through its clubs – has contributed to its communities across the country. A suspended season didn’t translate into suspended work. It sparked efforts from players, front offices and fans alike.
And in the wake of the unconscionable murder of George Floyd, the game – through its players – has become a catalyst for voices to be amplified and messages to be heard.
Black Players for Change has worked closely with Major League Soccer to implement a handful of initiatives during the MLS Is Back Tournament. Two of these initiatives – the captain’s armband and the MLS Unites Patch – pass creative ownership to the players to use their voices as a form of visible expression during the game.
All clubs will feature captain’s armbands that showcase their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. These armbands were designed in collaboration with or with the support of the Black players in each market. Black Players for Change suggested this idea.
The armband Ozzie Alonso will wear as the Loons step onto the field Sunday night will be black with white letters spelling out GEORGE FLOYD. Wearing his name and representing his family tie pride and purpose together, adding a new meaning to the traditional showcase of leadership.
“I think we have to own up that this happened in our backyard,” said midfielder Jacori Hayes. “We’re not using him as a mascot. We’re just reminding people that, at least in our community back home in Minnesota, that this happened here and hopefully we can affect change – starting here – that can spread to the rest of the world.”
The MLS Unites Patch will have the MLS, MLS WORKS and MLS Players Association logos, in addition to a blank space for players to write in the name of a person they want to honor or an inspirational message. The person can be a nurse, doctor or other essential worker on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, a person committed to driving positive social change and ending racial injustice through the Black Lives Matter movement, or a person who has been a victim of COVID-19 or police brutality. Players could also elect to write in a name or message that has significance to them.
While a few players honored family members and COVID-19 heroes, the majority speak to the struggle for racial equality and human rights in language specific to Black Lives Matter and justice reform. Eight of the jerseys honor Breonna Taylor and call for the arrest of her killers.
“It’s very important to me,” said Hayes. “It’s a very cool experience to have. I think it just sheds light that we’re more than athletes. We’re people that experience the world and we have thoughts and things that truly affect us. It’s a way to shed light on our humanity and our human side. Show the world what we’re thinking about issues that are going on in this country.”
“It means a lot,” echoed forward Aaron Schoenfeld. “We, as athletes, are lucky. There’s usually a lot of eyes on us. So it’s a good moment to keep the talks alive. To continue the talks. To know that if anything dies out, before the media can change the message back to COVID or whatever mainstream media is focusing on in the moment. It’s nice to have a hand in what people see.”
Hayes and Schoenfeld have both opted to change their jerseys and the messages on them for the second half. It’s common for players to put on a fresh jersey during halftime – especially in the Orlando heat – and now with that second jersey comes a further opportunity to convey a message.
Hayes took this as a chance to address the larger issues at hand and call for action. On his first half jersey, he wrote, “Dismantle systemic racism.” His second jersey says, “Charge Breonna Taylor’s killers.”
“When it was first brought up, it’s something that came to me right away. We’re talking a lot about police brutality right now, but there’s so many other facets of injustice that’s happening across this country,” explained Hayes. “I just wanted to bring it to the people’s attention, it’s a lot more than police brutality and there’s a lot more. It’s not just one bad apple. It’s a whole system that’s in place and designed over years to disproportionately affect minorities. So I wanted to bring that to attention.”
While these messages may be a small step, they are a step, and a recognition that players have voices beyond the pitch that can advocate for change.
Here’s what they wanted to share:
Tyler Miller: Silence is Violence | A movement not a moment
Jose Aja: Stronger together | Stronger together
Jacori Hayes: Dismantle systemic racism | Charge Breonna Taylor's killers
Osvaldo Alonso: End racism, we all bleed the same color | End racism, we all bleed the same color
Kevin Molino: MY SKIN COLOR IS NOT A WEAPON | NOW WE TRANSFORM! NOW WE STAND, TOGETHER!
Jan Gregus: The time is always right to do what is right | Equality
Luis Amarilla: Victoria Chavez | Victoria Chavez
Thomas Chacon: Black Lives Matter | Black Lives Matter
Aaron Schoenfeld: Black Lives Matter | Breonna Taylor
Ethan Finlay: Equality | Equality
Michael Boxall: Arrest Breonna Taylor's killers | Arrest Breonna Taylor's killers
Robin Lod: Equality | Doctors & Nurses
Greg Ranjitsingh: Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor | Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor
Romain Metanire: Am I Next? | Noir et fiere de l’etre (translation: Black and proud)
Mason Toye: The time is always right to do what is right | Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Hassani Dotson: To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it | Inequality is a pandemic too
James Musa: "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects + enhances the Freedom of others." – Nelson Mandela | Thank You First Responders JEN, RHEA, MINH, MUM
Raheem Edwards: BLM | Black and proud
Chase Gasper: Thank you healthcare workers "Hannah Gasper/Miss u Noah" | The time is always right to do what is right
Marlon Hairston: Delay of justice is injustice | Breonna Taylor
Fred Emmings: Justice for Breonna