Five Major League Soccer matches were postponed Wednesday night as players made a collective statement against racial injustice. The action came amid a wave of boycotts in US sports, with NBA play-off games, baseball and tennis matches all called off in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin on Sunday.
Atlanta United v Inter Miami, FC Dallas v Colorado, Portland v San Jose, Real Salt Lake v LAFC, LA Galaxy v Seattle were all called off as players decided not to take part in solidarity. The lone match played was between Orlando City and Nashville SC.
The Colorado forward Kei Kamara posted on social media: “We made a decision together as players and staff to not play our game tonight, because there’s more happening in our country to distract our minds to soccer. This is the first time I can agree to the saying ‘It’s just a game.”’
Real Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha, formerly of Manchester City and QPR, said : “People will miss out on the entertainment, but at the end of the day it’s entertainment. There are other things going on which are essentially life and death, which should be a bigger part of any conversation that exists today.”
Atlanta United released a statement before its scheduled game against Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We stand in solidarity with the Black community, with our players, our city and our fans in the fight against injustice,” the statement said. “We must use our voices to be the change.” Players from both teams then gathered on the field, arm in arm in a show of support.
Portland similarly released a statement that said: “The Portland Timbers stand in support of our players and their decision not to play tonight. Racial injustice and police brutality against black people in our country must end now.”
After his team’s 3-1 victory over Nashville, Orlando City midfielder Nani said he was not aware until after the game that players had boycotted the other games. The former Manchester United winger was the only Orlando player to kneel for the anthem before the game.
“We didn’t know. We understand and we respect what’s going on and what the other teams did,” Nani said. “This is a situation we must stick together from today to try to do our best to see what we can help and what we can support.”
Seattle Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam said that the players wanted to use their platform. “As a group, we decided that we’re part of the world and we’ll let everybody see that the things that happen around us, we aren’t blind to it,” Leerdam said. “That’s why we took a stand to not play today.”
Blake was shot multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin – about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. The incident was captured on cellphone video. The Blake family’s attorney have said he is paralyzed and it will “take a miracle” for him to walk again. Earlier in the day, MLS issued a statement about the shooting.
“MLS unequivocally condemns racism and has always stood for equality, but we need to do more to take tangible steps to impact change,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our players, our clubs and the broader soccer community to harness our collective power to fight for equality and social justice.”
A group of MLS players formed Black Players for Change following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests. The group was vocal during the recent MLS is Back tournament in Florida and has the support of the league.
Dallas defender Reggie Cannon, who recently received threats after he criticized fans who booed when his team knelt during the anthem, tweeted: “Some things are bigger than soccer and things need to change. We are together in this no matter the color.”