Players from around the league declined to play in protest of racial injustice, and in particular the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two protesters were killed in the city two days later. The development came as players in both the NBA and WNBA declined to play in support of Black Lives Matter as well as to protest what took place in Kenosha.
Once it was announced that the five games had been postponed, MLS put out a statement that said: “Major League Soccer has made the decision to postpone the remaining matches — Miami-Atlanta, Dallas-Colorado, Real Salt Lake-LAFC, San Jose-Portland, LA Galaxy-Seattle — scheduled for this evening. Each match will be rescheduled.”
Kaye was having none of it, tweeting in response, “We as players made the decision. Fix this, please give the right narrative.”
We as players made the decision. Fix this, please give the right narrative. https://t.co/0Qhb8L7dMc
— Mark-Anthony Kaye (@MarkThEwizz) August 27, 2020
Kaye’s sentiments were echoed by Seattle Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer, who said in a statement: “I fully support the players’ decision. As an American citizen, it is clear to me that our country is incredibly divided, and it saddens me that some people seem not to understand the importance of this movement. The violence that we are witnessing across our nation needs to be addressed, and tonight I am proud of the players for taking a stand and using their voices.”
After the Milwaukee Bucks opted not to play its scheduled game on Wednesday, counterparts from the NBA, WNBA, and some MLB players followed suit.
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That created momentum throughout the day for MLS to do the same, as captains and player reps from various teams began conversing. But with Orlando and Nashville kicking off at 7.30 p.m. ET, those teams were under what Nashville captain Dax McCarty called a time crunch, one exacerbated by the fact that a league rule requires Nashville players to turn off their cell phones an hour prior to kickoff, and have them stay off for the duration of the game. There was also the fact that the visiting locker room at Exploria Stadium isn’t large enough to accommodate the entire roster, making communication even more difficult.
“The timeline was just a little too crunched, it was a little too soon for us to effectively communicate with other teams in the league about what was going to happen,” he said.
“Obviously being the first game, that time-frame is extremely crunched and extremely difficult to be able to have communication, meaningful communication with what’s going to happen.
“I got to the locker room. I put my phone down. I was focused on the game, figuring out what we’re going to do to try to beat Orlando. You hear rumors, you hear whispers. But ultimately, that’s what they are. We have had no firm conversations on what was going to happen before our game or with the other games. So I’m extremely proud of the rest of the Players Association for coming and being able to have that time to make that decision together. I wish that we could have part of that. But ultimately, that wasn’t the case.”
Nashville defender Jalil Anibaba, a founding member of the player advocacy group Black Players for Change, added that if a decision was made to go on strike, then everyone on both teams needed to be united, and there wasn’t sufficient opportunity to get everyone from both teams on the same page. That was why the game continued even after it became apparent that games elsewhere were being postponed.
“Whatever was going to happen, we weren’t going to put Orlando on an island, and Orlando wasn’t going to put us on an island,” he said. “Everyone has to understand that us as players we’re united.
It’s not about, ‘Did we want to boycott and Orlando didn’t, or did we not want to boycott and Orlando did.’
“It’s nothing like that. We didn’t have enough time to organize.”
Once the match began, the players felt they were in no position to stop. Nashville manager Gary Smith said he didn’t even know that games elsewhere had been postponed until he walked off the field after the match.
A source with knowledge of the situation said that around the time that the Orlando-Nashville match kicked off, MLS commissioner Don Garber convened a conference call of owners and team presidents to get a sense of what direction they wanted to head. The source said that while a majority of the teams wanted to postpone their matches, it wasn’t unanimous. Rather than leave some teams exposed, Garber made the decision to announce that the rest of the night’s games had been postponed.
In terms of the future, it’s unclear if this weekend’s games might also be delayed. What is certain is that the issue of racial equality will continue to front of mind throughout the league.
“At this point in time, it’s about unity,” said Anibaba. “We’ll continue to show that through our conversations internally, but also through our actions.”
McCarty added: “I’m sure the Black Players for Change is going to have some meetings with MLS. I’m sure they’re going to have player meetings with each other. I’m sure they’re going to have plenty of meetings with everyone involved in the MLS Players Association.
“As far as I’m concerned, all we can do is listen and learn and try to use our platform to affect change in a meaningful and positive way.”