Philadelphia Union midfielder Warren Creavalle‘s preparation for the MLS is Back Tournament didn’t mean just getting as close as possible to full-game fitness and making sure he was mentally ready to enter the Florida bubble. Creavalle also had some T-shirt design projects on his plate.
The Black Players for Change (BPC) was busy leading up to the tournament, first establishing itself and then planning to make a series of statements at MLS is Back in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter social justice movement. As part of that and in conjunction with Major League Soccer and Adidas, the Union’s Ray Gaddis threw Creavalle’s name into the hat to design a T-shirt to be worn at the tournament to represent both the moment and the movement.
Creavalle is passionate about design, and his namesake brand boasts a clothing range, but the turnaround time to create a T-shirt for a national and even global spotlight was short.
“I remember them asking if I would be able to turn a design around in a couple of days, and thankfully my wheels were already spinning from working on the other shirts for the BPC, so I was already in that mode,” Creavalle told ESPN. “It was a really quick process.”
The result can be seen every time the camera cuts to the benches during the MLS is Back Tournament. The black T-shirts with “Black Lives Matter” written in gold lettering across the front have been an unmissable feature in Orlando, with every team wearing them.
Creavalle said the shirt was inspired by similar designs seen in the streets during protests sparked by the death of George Floyd on May 25 and in some ways, the most striking part of the T-shirt is least visible on TV: the writing on the left side below the letters “BLM.” Creavalle wrote the statement, checking with and taking inspiration from Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse, who penned a succinct blog about his feelings on the movement.
The statement, in full, reads: “To be clear, this is not your distraction, it’s not your escape from real life. For some, this is everyday life. This is not politics, it’s not black vs white, it’s human RIGHTS. Silence is violence. In certain cases, silence was suffocation. This is not meant for your comfort, it’s not meant to be a trend. It’s meant for your awareness, understanding, and mobilization. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong. MLS is back, but Black Lives still Matter. They mattered yesterday, they matter today, and they MUST matter tomorrow.”
“As far as the text below it, to me that’s basically the declaration of what you’re signing up for by wearing this shirt,” said Creavalle. The word “rights” is written in capital letters because it is “the core piece of this [movement].”
“Those are my words. Those are my feelings,” he said. “I wanted it to be very representative of what we [the BPC] as a group were feeling, of what this moment is about and what it’s not about.”
You may have spotted these shirts & captain armbands worn in @MLS matches this week.
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) July 12, 2020
To the top right of the “BLM” lettering — still on the back of the shirt — sits a globe.
“The globe is an asset that I had already from one of my older Creavalle projects, and I had that because, obviously, the Black Lives Matter is at the forefront in the U.S., but it’s not only received mass support around the world. It’s also a problem around the world,” Creavalle said. “I think darker skinned people have [felt] the product of systemic racism globally, and it’s just acknowledging that.”
The Guyana international — Creavalle’s father is from Guyana, and his mother is from Grenada — was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Acworth, Georgia. He has been encouraged by the reaction from the soccer world to the BLM movement that started in the United States.
“Absolutely, that’s what that globe represents as well,” he said. “It’s a world issue. It’s a human rights issue. It’s not just the United States. This is happening all over, and I’ve been really appreciative to see stances like in the Premier League in such a big platform like that to support Black Lives Matter.”
Below and to the right of the “BLM” are three symbols: a heart, a raised fist and a circle with arrows and a line through it.
The heart represents compassion — “This isn’t just one race. We need everybody onboard,” Creavalle said — while the raised first has been “a longstanding symbol of strength and solidarity, unity and also black power.”
The circle with a line through it is a symbol for change, for “breaking the cycle,” Creavalle said. “Everything we’ve seen, we’ve seen before. It’s been cyclical, 400 years of inequality and oppression of black people.
“As recently as 2012 with Trayvon Martin, [in] 2014 [with] Eric Garner … you just keep seeing it over and over. Now we’re seeing it in the present day with George [Floyd], Breonna [Taylor] and Ahmaud [Arbery] and countless other names.”
Moving down, at the center and bottom are two hands embracing, with the words, “We stand in solidarity with the black community in the fight against systemic racism.”
Said Creavalle: “It’s for solidarity. It’s not just for the black community. It’s for the whole league and hopefully even further than that as we continue this. That’s why I wanted to use that symbol of the hands coming together in solidarity.
The reaction to Creavalle’s BLM T-shirt has been positive. A look around social media highlights a number users asking where they can get one. But the intention was never to produce them and sell them en masse.
“Even early on, before these were even produced, that was a thing that was brought up, and there was sensitivity around commercializing this moment, but … there’s been follow-up conversations regarding a way to make it so it benefits charities or organizations that align with what the messaging is,” Creavalle said.
The T-shirt is one part of a series of actions from the BPC, which Creavalle is confident can have a lasting impact.
The protests by the BPC hit global headlines with the emotional demonstration organized ahead of the first MLS is Back Tournament game between Inter Miami CF and Orlando City SC on July 8. Players stood with their fists in the air in silence for eight minutes, 46 seconds, the time it was initially reported that police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
“I thought about what if a young me was able to see this moment, this display,” Creavalle said of being part of the protest. “I thought that was so powerful. I know [Gaddis] had parents messaging him talking about how powerful it was and [how] important it was for their young black son or daughter to see that. To me, that is everything.”
Just before kickoff against NYCFC the following morning, Union players unveiled their shirts, with each player sporting the name of a Black victim of police brutality on the back of his jersey. Creavalle gave a shoutout to Union equipment manager Brandon Comisky for helping organize and keeping the detail under wraps. He said the players wanted to make an additional statement for the city the Union call home.
“All of our teams, they represent individual markets, and a lot of time, these stadiums are located in black neighborhoods,” Creavalle said. “Ours in particular is in Chester, and I think to us we have an obligation to represent that neighborhood the way they want to be represented as well.”
Players from Philadelphia Union are wearing names of Black victims of police brutality on their jerseys.
Chester, Pennsylvania — where the Union’s Subaru Park is located — is more than 70% Black or African American, according to the most recent U.S. Census, and Creavalle gives back to the youth in the area. The midfielder helps run an after-school program called Design FC, set up to stimulate kids through creativity, with workshops on photography, brand building and weekly activations focused loosely around the goal of each kid designing his or her own soccer jersey.
“It was kind of the marriage of the things that I really enjoy: soccer, design and giving back, particularly to the youth,” Creavalle said. “When the opportunity came by, I jumped at it.”