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Black History Month: There will be change

The Black Players for Change had a moment that will undoubtedly live in American history, and they’re not stopping there.

Orlando City SC v Inter Miami CF - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, the world reacted with shock at the video that was seen by hundreds of millions of people. 8 minutes, 46 seconds. That’s the length of time Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck, with Floyd crying out that he couldn’t breathe until he could cry out no more.

The world may have reacted with shock, but Black people across the United States reacted with anger, sadness, and above all, exhaustion. 400 years of slavery, discrimination, oppression and racial inequity just boiled over into a historic display of pain, grief, anger, and indescribable stress. They reacted. And the result was the reigniting of the social justice movement that continues today.

While this was going on, Black players in Major League Soccer were caught between worlds. How do they continue to be professional athletes while finding the time to express the pain, sadness, exhaustion, and stress that they too were exhibiting. From that pain rose a determined group of players motivated to turn that pain into action.

They immediately began meeting with each other, virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they started to lay out what they wanted to see happen. On Juneteenth, the group announced the creation of a coalition, the Black Players for Change. Their mission was to give Black players in Major League Soccer a voice and help bring systemic change both within the league and in American soccer as a whole. They seek to “address the racial inequalities in our league, stand with all those fighting racism in the world of soccer, and positively impact black communities across the United States and Canada.” Led by Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow, who spoke along with the Portland Timbers’ Jeremy Ebobisse on the SSFC Podcast back in June, the BPC has already done a lot to bring attention to many of the racial inequities in the game of soccer, from the lack of Black coaches and executives to the failure by the league and American soccer in highlighting some of the many Black heroes of the game that have paved the way and made a difference.

When the MLS is Back tournament came around, the BPC continued meeting with its base, and they led conversations with fellow teammates and the league on the response that they wanted to share with the world. Their response would be based on a central theme: “There will be change.”

That display of their call for change and action came at the start of the MLS is Back tournament on July 8, 2020. Before the opening match, in a planned demonstration, each of the over 170 Black players in the league gathered on the field, with Black Lives Matter masks and “Silence Is Violence” written across their shirts, and performed a silent demonstration for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

It’s very rare that you feel something become history when it happens that’s not something like an achievement or a victory. When the BPC formed, it wasn’t a victory or necessarily an achievement. It was the moment in the history of this country, when Black players banded together to use their platform to create the space needed to pursue the change that they seek. Their work was recognized by the league when the coalition was award MLS’s 2020 Humanitarian of the Year award.

Their example has been followed by Black players in the USL Championship (Black Player’s Alliance of the USL) and the NWSL (Black Women’s Player Collective). They’ve even collaborated on ideas and initiatives, the most recent being the collaboration of the BPC and the BWPC on a mini-pitch initiative, where they will build mini soccer fields and futsal courts in the hometowns of the boards of both coalitions. Sky Blue FC and USWNT player Midge Purce, who serves as the executive director of the BWPC, said in the release about the collaboration that the mini pitches “will be critical to our mission of empowering young Black girls and increasing lasting opportunity for sport and community fostered through play. We hope children of all ages enjoy these pitches and create longstanding, memorable experiences for their communities.”

Reached by SSFC for comment, Morrow stated that the goals of the BPC continue to be promoting increased access and representation for the black community in soccer. He added that for Black History Month, the BPC’s focus will be “highlighting players who also own their own businesses to share their stories and what they have to overcome.”

“It’s been a long, A long time coming, But I know a change gonna come, Oh, yes it will,” crooned Sam Cooke in his posthumous hit “A Change Is Gonna Come.” There will be change. And that change will be spawned by the work already done by the Black Players for Change, the USLBPA, and the BWPC. We knew a movement was beginning back in June 2020. What will remain a source of pride is that MLS’s Black players weren’t just the heart of that movement for change, but have continued to use their voices and their platforms to lead.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.