FC Cincinnati's Joseph-Claude Gyau first learned of the historic events unfolding in American sports on Wednesday like many around the country did — through a notification on his phone that the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks would be sitting out their scheduled playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
From there, things started to cascade, as more players from the NBA, WNBA, and MLB choose not to play their games in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. And MLS players echoed that stance, leading to the postponement of five of the six Major League Soccer games set for Wednesday night.
“It was big to see that,” Gyau told reporters on a Thursday conference call. “I got the notification that the Bucks were not going to be playing a playoff game, which is huge. To take a stand on that level, where viewership is huge, especially this deep into the season, in the playoffs, to make a stand like that was tremendous. To see those guys actually band together in such a short span of time — because I heard they made that decision not too long before the match — then a couple hours after I saw that the [Cincinnati] Reds decided that they were not going to play the game and everything unfolded with MLS.
“Just to see the unity, the solidarity going around all sports was comforting to see. That guys are fed up. The guys all agree enough is enough. This is not sitting right with anybody, all races, not just the black athletes. For me, personally, I was happy to see that.”
Gyau, who grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and played his entire pro career in Germany until joining FCC in 2019, praised all the players who took a stand on Wednesday, not just in protest of Blake's shooting, but in support of the ongoing movement to end police brutality and systemic racism in America.
“Yesterday was a historical moment. I commend all the players for taking a stand, getting in front of such a tragic event and letting people know that enough is enough,” Gyau said. Because with sports continuing it kind of gave the chance for the conversation to die down a little bit.
“I think players want to make it noted that this is not something that has gone away," he continued, noting that innocent Black people have continued to be killed by police since George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis in May. "It’s just heartbreaking to see something like this continues to happen, especially with no repercussions. Seeing videos some of the videos of the shooting that occurred during the protests in Wisconsin was also horrifying.
“A lot of people, they tend to say we’re bringing politics into the game. This is not a political stance, this is basic human rights: people standing up for their freedoms, standing up for their rights, and standing up for their life, basically. Saying we don’t want to be killed anymore, we don’t want to be shot anymore. There’s nothing political about that — that’s basic human rights.”
He concluded: “I respect all the players who made that choice yesterday not to walk out on the field. I definitely want to pay respects to Jacob Blake and his sons. They witnessed a horrific act that will traumatize them the rest of their life, seeing their father shot seven times in the back. No kid should ever even have to imagine something like that. I think it was important to bring awareness back to the issues at hand.”
Gyau has spoken publicly before about his experiences with racism in the United States, including in June when he related a story from his youth soccer days in Maryland of racist comments targeted at his team comprised primarily of first-generation immigrants. And though he thinks the discussions sparked by the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests against police brutality and systemic racism have generated more awareness around the issues, he reiterated his a strong message to fans about what these protests mean to him.
“It’s a tough one — for me being a Black man in USA, these things aren’t new,” Gyau said. “Take the initiative to check up in history. Police have been brutalizing Black people in America for a long time. As we get deeper and deeper into this, more and more people are becoming aware of it, and just being compassionate, hearing people, not just brushing it off like it doesn’t really affect anybody, because it does, it really does.
“I personally know people who have been brutalized by police, I know guys who have been shot at by the police. So this is definitely a serious issue that I don’t take lightly. As much awareness as we can bring to the situation, I’d like to do so.”
Gyau also noted that “everyone in the FC Cincinnati organization has been in full support of what's been going on” and that “we're all on the same page.” The sentiment was affirmed by FCC head coach Jaap Stam shortly thereafter, who voiced his support for his players and their message for change and noted that he would respect any decision taken by them similar to what went down on Wednesday evening.
“Myself and the coaching staff, we still need to prepare for the game on Saturday because there’s nothing definite in what’s going to happen, but we respect the decision that’s going to be made,” Stam said. “The only thing we can do now is is we can talk about it. We can act on it as well in a certain way by of course talking about the whole situation and taking a stand as well, but we still need to prepare for the game on Saturday.”
Gyau also noted that if Cincinnati had played on Wednesday, then they would have stood with the rest of the players who chose not to take the field. Looking ahead to their scheduled game against Columbus on Saturday, though, he said he is ready to play.
“I’m still a professional athlete — I do have a platform to where I can vocalize what’s been going on, and I can use that platform to mirror voice of thousands, millions of people that feel like they don’t have a voice,” he said. “But at the same time I still have to go out there and handle business as usual.
“That being said, I know what’s going on, I’m sure everybody is aware of what’s going on. Just because we play this game it doesn’t mean that we’re sweeping under the rug. We’re still going to take the game seriously … and we’re still going to be out there competing and trying to win. This is still fresh in our heads, fresh in my head, but when it’s time to get out onto that field I have to get the job done.”