Major League Soccer’s Revisionist History Wednesday Night Won’t Be Forgotten

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.

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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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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."

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). 

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.

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