By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 15, 2020) US Soccer Players – The coronavirus pandemic that forced Americans to stay home, closed businesses, and forced sports leagues to go on pause lead to a series of community initiatives to help people cope with the health and economic fallout of the last few months. It also made for some strange collaborations. For example, MLS rivals the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers decided to work together during the pandemic to bring fans fun content while stuck at home during the quarantine. The teams joined forces to coincide with their postponed May 17 meeting to mark the historic rivalry that dates back to 1975 when they played in the NASL.
During that week, fans were encouraged to donate to the United Way of Columbia-Willamette and the Seattle Sounders FC Relief Fund. The Cascadia Cup rivals held a series of other remote events, including airing memorable matches, in an effort to bring fans together at least virtually.
With the MLS is Back tournament starting on July 8 in Orlando, live games return. In their absence, the efforts of the last few months did a lot to bring fans of together. The country's soccer community has mobilized over the past week to address this moment. US Soccer announced on June 9 that it had repealed its three-year policy requiring players to stand during the playing of the national anthem. The Federation made the rule after USWNT star Megan Rapinoe first took a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback began the silent protest during the 2016 season following a series of police shootings that resulted in the death of African-American men. The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman is the latest in a long list of examples, leading to nationwide protests.
USMNT players like Weston McKennie joined Bundesliga players in the Floyd protests by taking a knee. McKennie, who plays for Schalke 04, also displayed his support for Floyd by wearing an armband with the message "Justice for George" during the May 30 game against Werder Bremen. Afterward, Schalke tweeted a photo of McKennie wearing the armband with the hashtag #JusticeForGeorge. Tyler Adams and others also showed their support, leading to the Bundesliga and later FIFA to set aside their rules on social statements by players during games calling on its members to use "common sense" and "context." USMNT and Fortuna Dusseldorf goalkeeper Zack Steffen has started VOYCEnow "a community of athletes and fans fighting for equality and justice."
MLS also teams rushed to put out statements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Individual players took to their Twitter and Instagram accounts to address racism. Again, both Seattle and Portland, cities that have seen some of the largest protests, have been ahead of most sports teams.
On the Sounders website, the team posted a message from broadcaster Steve Zakuani, who played for both the Sounders and Timbers before retiring in 2014. On Twitter, Zakuani posted a video of himself with the following message: "The system isn't broken. It is working exactly as it was designed for those it was designed for. We don't need to repair the system — we must dismantle it & rebuild together."
Zakuani also encouraged fans to donate to Kingdom Hope, a foundation that raises money for children and teens in the Seattle area so that they can attend soccer clinics. On the Sounders podcast "Winging it with Zak and Brad," Zakuani and former Seattle midfielder Brad Evans used the forum to discuss the Floyd situation and the ensuing protests. "The thing that gives me hope is the majority of the world appears to understand and be reasonable," Zakuani said during the episode. "It's not black versus white. It's people against racism to say, 'enough is enough.' These injustices can't continue."
Other Sounders players, like midfielder Harry Shipp, were also active on social media, decrying the injustices that come with racism. "In 2016-17, for the first time seriously in my life, I took the time to read and learn about the extent of the police brutality issue in this country," Shipp wrote on Instagram. "Would I have done that without Colin Kaepernick? Hopefully, eventually - but probably not in 2016. I agreed with him and all the other athletes who had decided to kneel. I ultimately decided to shy away publicly — rationalizing it by telling myself it would take attention away from our team. But I was part of the problem."
In Portland, Timbers defender Chris Duvall wrote an essay that was posted to the team's website on June 9 addressing the current situation. "What am I feeling? I'm feeling tired," he wrote. "Tired of white people trying to explain to ME what it means to be black. Tired of sympathetic questions that are proven disingenuous. Tired of being the outlet people go to as they convince themselves that they aren't in need of growth. Tired of seeing people like me dying and knowing I could be next."
Duvall concluded the post this way: "My life matters. Black lives matter. This fight against racism started centuries ago, and it will be fought in our streets, in our homes and in our hearts for years to come. We've still got a long way to go."
Although the teams have not publicly said whether they plan any joint initiatives, they've already shown the kind of commitment needed in this moment. While it's true that the country has a long way to go, the Sounders and Timbers have shown that in a time of national crisis, be it about health and now race, that they will be there as part of the communities that they represent on and off the field.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- 5 soccer docs worth your time
- Where are they now? The 1990 USMNT World Cup squad
- The history of the Hudson River derby
- The state of American club soccer
Logos courtesy of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers