Major League Soccer on Thursday announced plans to recognize Juneteenth – the effective end of slavery in the United States – with a series of initiatives that celebrate freedom.
The efforts are in collaboration with Black Players for Change (BPC), an organization of Black MLS players, coaches and staff seeking to increase inclusion in soccer that was established on Juneteenth 2020. MLS programs will include a limited-edition jersey auction and the playing of the Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) before this weekend's matches.
“This league-wide recognition is a wonderful celebration of freedom made possible by our deep collaboration with Black Players for Change,” said MLS Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Office Sola Winley in a league release. “It was our collective hope to honor this significant moment in American history by celebrating the freedom fighters of our past as well as acknowledging the freedom fighters of today that continue to shine a light on the need for equality, prosperity and freedom for all. In the span of only one year, we have ideated together to take meaningful actions for change both inside and outside of our sport.”
Special numbers on jerseys
The Juneteenth-inspired numbers on the jerseys of all players competing during the weekend of June 18-20 were designed by Indianapolis native Israel Solomon in collaboration with MLS and Black Players for Change. The jersey numbers – presented in a bold, empowering and visually-attractive sharp-line red, black and green pattern – are inspired by Black culture and symbolize ancestry, liberation and cultural vibrancy.
“When approached with the opportunity to design the Juneteenth-inspired numbers, I wanted to use this platform to educate within a work of art,” said Solomon. “After collaborating with MLS and BPC, their clear vision to use this piece as a means to celebrate and educate led to the creation of something that was bold, prideful and visually attractive.”
The jersey numbers and the limited-edition jersey packaging illustrate the history and importance of Juneteenth, plus pay homage to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The imagery reinforces the message that Black players in MLS are standing tall because they stand on the shoulders of the freedom fighters who came before them.
The game-worn jerseys from each team and their commemorative boxes are set to be auctioned off in three phases from June 21-July 19. Proceeds from the auctions will benefit organizations supporting and uplifting Black communities in the markets of MLS teams. Additional auction information, including how to place a bid, will be available at MLSauctions.com.
“We helped build this initiative to bridge the gap between generations celebrating Juneteenth and everyone who is still being introduced to this day,” said Toronto FC defender and BPC Executive Director Justin Morrow. “We hope that these jerseys will help shed light on the historical significance of Juneteenth, which is necessary context for where we are in society today. Understanding Black History is imperative to building a better society.”
- Atlanta United: Hosting community groups that support further learning and education of Atlanta's youth. A behind-the-scenes feature with supporters and four of ATLUTD's players will be presented at the June 20 match.
- Austin FC: Dream Starter – a pitch competition for underrepresented entrepreneurs (i.e. BIPOC, women) in partnership with Austin FC founding partner Q2. The winner will be awarded $100,000 during the home opener on June 19.
- Houston Dynamo FC: A trip to Galveston Island, the place where the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Team visit to The Juneteenth Legacy Project mural in Galveston. Players will take part in a ceremony at Emancipation Park Conservatory.
- LA Galaxy: Partnering with Carson Mayor, Compton Cowboys, Murs and East Side Riders Bike Club for a percentage of ticket sales going to East Side Riders Bike Club, a volunteer organization in Watts with a mission to improve Watts through community service, charity work, and bike programs aimed at keeping local youth out of gang activity. Team will also have a fundraiser for Compton Cowboys.
- Nashville SC: To kick off the Juneteenth holiday weekend, Nashville SC will host a community watch party in the heart of North Nashville – one of the city’s most storied communities and an area rich in African American history. In conjunction with Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson Country Parks & Recreation and District 21 Councilman Brandon Taylor, the Juneteenth Community Watch Party will bring together soccer fans and residents of North Nashville to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday and the history, contributions and resilience of the community.
- New York City FC: Holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new black mini-pitch in Harlem.
- Real Salt Lake: Events at “Stronger Together” futsal courts (opened Juneteenth 2020) and working to support local black-owned businesses.
- Seattle Sounders: Collaborating with the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). Events with players and Sounders Greats, as well as a Juneteenth Jamboree on June 19 at NAAM.
- Sporting KC: Sporting KC and the Negro League Baseball Museum are partnering on a Limited-Edition capsule collection to celebrate the 101st anniversary of Negro Leagues. The capsule collection includes the following: T-shirt - Special Cream colored shirt with arched “Kansas City” in classic baseball type across the chest. NLBM patch on the sleeve and red “KC Heart” jocktag as an homage to the classic look of Negro Leagues teams; Scarf - black and white Pinstripe scarf design with NLBM logo on one side. SKC and “KC” heart on reverse; Hat - Black with cream “KC” from KC heart, and NLBM patch. For additional information: sportingkc.com, nlbm.com or call (816) 221-1920.
- What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. [PBS.org]
- History of Juneteenth by National Museum of African American History and Culture [SI.edu]
- Reading List/Reference Tools by Briscoe Center for American History at UT-Austin [utexas.edu]