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MLS Black History Month roundtable brings attention to black issues in soccer

We get real as we close out an important month.

China v United States Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

A few days ago, Major League Soccer unveiled a video chronicling a roundtable discussion featuring key black players and social media influencers in American soccer. The purpose of the roundtable was to highlight some of the issues facing African-Americans and black people in soccer as part of the celebration of Black History Month. Former USWNT player and Fox Soccer commentator Danielle Slaton, Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie, current USWNT star Crystal Dunn, Black Arrow FC co-founder Aaron Dolores, and soccer writer and influencer Aaron West formed the roundtable and sat down with each other earlier this morning for the discussion.

The roundtable discussion touched on several subjects of importance, like affordable access to play spaces in black neighborhoods, the perception of black soccer players not just in America but around the world, the need to develop more black players, coaches and executives, and issues of racism that fans and players alike face daily. They also talk about the importance of injecting black culture into the soccer landscape and how important it was for black fans to have heroes that look like them and are model examples of world class soccer players. “Fashion and FIFA” have driven a lot of the growing interest in soccer, yet space still exists to welcome those new fans into a sport where most of the players in this country don’t look like them.

The play of France during their run to the World Cup title last summer was viewed as inspiring in the black community because of the number of black players who were starting as well as being fun to watch and having some of the best players in the world. Being labeled as more than just fast, big, or strong and focusing on being heralded as possessing world class technical ability, tactics, or cerebral play was a big issue that each of the roundtable participants focused on, something that is still lacking here in America and around the world.

The roundtable also touched on the lack of access to soccer fields in predominantly black neighborhoods, with rising travel costs and costs for equipment and placement on club teams being a deterrent for many up-and-coming athletes where basketball and football present cheaper alternatives.

Finally, while racism wasn’t something that Crystal Dunn said she had experienced in person, the talk quickly moved to social media, where people feel they have more freedom to show their true feelings towards some athletes of color. How black players are viewed and discussed is something that needs to change, and the growing reports of racism on social media channels towards black players and influencers alike is why we need to have these kind of discussions more often.

Everyone should take 40 minutes to view this year’s MLS Black History Month roundtable in full. Black History Month is celebrated every year, yet the lessons we learn during the shortest day of the year rarely progress beyond the turn of the calendar to March. Some of these issues are too important to leave behind in February only to pick it back up the following year. Progress is what needs to be the driving force behind these conversations. Take a little time every day to learn about some of the black soccer history that exists. Last year, we did a whole Black History Month series that focused on black soccer history stories that weren’t well known or needed re-addressing or simply to chronicle some of soccer’s black heroes. There’s so much more we can learn. There’s so much more we can grow.

As Black History Month comes to a close, let’s remember the words of Kanye West: “Make black history every day, I don’t need a month.” The truth is, we need more than the shortest month of the year to bring to light the black soccer history stories that need to be passed down to the next generation of fans. Let’s all do our part to learn something everyday, to make each day better for a young boy or girl who has a dream of representing the United States on the soccer field. Please, take some time to watch the roundtable, if you haven’t already, and then hit the comments to give us some takeaways from the discussion, or even some black soccer history stories you stumbled upon this month that you want to take with you into March and beyond.