Wednesday was a remarkable day in U.S. sports. For the first time in memory, athletes in this country chose not to participate in major professional team sports in protest of the continued shootings of Black men and women by police. It started with the Milwaukee Bucks, whose home arena isn’t far from where Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back earlier this week and where two protesters were murdered in the streets. It continued with the rest of the NBA and WNBA, a poignant message on the four-year anniversary of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. A few MLB games were called off as well, but the NHL pretended it was business as usual.
And then there was Major League Soccer, which had six matches scheduled for Wednesday night — five were called off, one was completed. What really happened on Wednesday was not a great look for MLS, despite its attempts to say otherwise.
As Wednesday afternoon wore on, it became clear the NBA would not be playing any games as part of a protest. (Many folks have argued over whether it was a strike or a boycott, and language does matter in this regard. AOC called out the New York Times for using ‘boycott,’ even though the Bucks themselves have called it a boycott.) The WNBA, probably the only league that has been consistently more progressive than the NBA, did the same, despite having its own demonstrations already planned for the day’s games.
When it came time for MLS matches to kick off, the league seemed totally unprepared for what was going on. It released a word salad statement on the week’s events and then went silent.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 26, 2020
Just before the tweet, the night’s first match kicked off between Orlando City and Nashville. It was a match in Orlando, a city that has experienced its own prejudiced shooting violence and the home of the Magic, whose game with the Bucks had already been called off. But the match went on.
While Nashville and Orlando played — in front of fans who have forgotten we’re still in a pandemic — Atlanta and Inter Miami prepared for their match not too far away in Fort Lauderdale. Before they kicked off, players together decided they would not play. Instead they took the field — many in sandals — and posed for a photo together before abandoning the match.
Tonight is about more than a match. Our club stands behind our players 100% pic.twitter.com/x2qaEQj7xf— Darren Eales (@DEalesATLUTD) August 27, 2020
Soon reports trickled in that other teams would be doing the same: Sounders-Galaxy, Timbers-Quakes, LAFC-RSL and Rapids-FC Dallas. It became clear none of the other games would kick off on Wednesday night.
— Black Players For Change (@BPCMLS) August 27, 2020
At 9:11 p.m. ET, after two matches had already missed their kickoff times, MLS tweeted this out, announcing it was making the decision to postpone all of the matches.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 27, 2020
It didn’t take long for the Twitterati to call out MLS for trying to claim it was making the decision to postpone the matches.
This was, the players were quick to point out, a player-driven protest. MLS saying it was postponing matches took away the impact of their demonstration and seemed to try to give MLS credit.
We as players made the decision. Fix this, please give the right narrative. https://t.co/0Qhb8L7dMc— Mark-Anthony Kaye (@MarkThEwizz) August 27, 2020
We made a decision together as players and staffs to not play our game tonight because there’s more happening in our country to distract our minds to soccer. This is the first time I can agree to the saying “it’s just a game” #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/bdQs2ZXcKb— KEI KAMARA (@keikamara) August 27, 2020
— Reggie Cannon (@ReggieCannon15) August 27, 2020
Even though MLS was probably just trying to cover its ass and avoid confusion by saying it was postponing the five matches on Wednesday, it was yet another bad statement from MLS, which has produced some doozies in the last few months.
And it doesn’t excuse the fact Orlando and Nashville continued their game.
Today was a historic day combatting racism in the sports world. I’m sad that our sport in our city missed the mark.— Sydney Leroux Dwyer (@sydneyleroux) August 26, 2020
Yes we are footballers but don’t forget we are humans first. You let us down...— Mark-Anthony Kaye (@MarkThEwizz) August 27, 2020
And sadly, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen showed he just doesn't get it, saying Wednesday's actions were a sign of "disrespect" and made him question "how much I want to invest in the team."
Wow just wow! I can’t even right now. @realsaltlake locker room, fans, and front office that stand for equality, human rights, and the fight against racism I applaud you. I am disgusted by DLH comments. This is more than a game. https://t.co/PDYsD6hvKK— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) August 27, 2020
Of course, if you listened to some, like those who reside in the White House, these protests are “absurd and silly.” In reality, protests like these will only become more prominent as America stubbornly refuses to make meaningful progress.
Hopefully these demonstrations will help shed light on the systemic racism so prevalent in the U.S. Then again, those who don’t understand the issue are bombarded by misinformation. The Kenosha police chief victim-blamed the protesters for being shot by a wannabe vigilante, Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter have basically praised the alleged murderer and the RNC has done its best to try to convince you there is no racism in this country (and that the Covid-19 pandemic is long past us, despite the hundreds dying every day).
What a day for sports in America. Proud of the @TheWNBPA @TheNBPA @MLSPA and all the other athletes. We need a revolution in this national, and these athletes are leading the way. #JusticeforBreonnaTalyor and so many more. #justiceforjacoblake and so many more. #BlackLivesMatter— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) August 27, 2020
Major League Soccer will try to claim it was on the right side of history on Wednesday, but those who followed the story know it was the players, not the league, who provided the leadership.
But hey, at least MLS letting the players lead and not ignoring the social change sweeping America, like the NHL.