Soccer For All

Nashville SC's Dax McCarty, Jalil Anibaba explain why Wednesday's match with Orlando City SC went forward

Dax McCarty - Jalil Anibaba - Press conference

After Nashville SC's match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday, neither Dax McCarty nor Jalil Anibaba were interested in talking about what happened on the field.

"I have no thoughts about the soccer game," McCarty said. "Obviously coming into the locker room, seeing the news of everything that had happened, after the game, soccer takes a backseat. So, quite frankly, I don't really care about what happened on the field tonight."

Added Anibaba: "I couldn't agree more. Obviously our whole player pool, our whole league is in a moment of grieving right now. So, we'll talk about that."

Wednesday's match took place as protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue throughout the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday. With the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks deciding not to play their scheduled playoff game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, and following subsequent decisions not to play two other NBA playoff games, WNBA games and several MLB games, Nashville and Orlando's match to open the Wednesday slate was the only one out of a scheduled six that wound up taking place, as all the players elsewhere decided not to play, leading to the postponements of the remaining five games.

Asked about the process that led to Wednesday's lone match going forward, McCarty provided a detailed explanation as to what transpired.

"The timeline was just a little too crunched and it was a little too soon for us to effectively communicate with other teams in the league about what was going to happen," McCarty said. "Obviously being the first game, that timeframe is extremely crunched and extremely difficult to have 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 beat Orlando. You hear rumors, you hear whispers, but ultimately that's what they are. We 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 being able to have that time to make that decision together. I wish that we could have been a part of that, but ultimately that wasn't the case. So, when we came back in for halftime, there's no phones. There's no one telling us, 'Oh, there are other games being canceled, there are other games being postponed, there's boycotts happening right now — we don't know any of that. So we have to focus on the job at hand and that's exactly what we did.

"I want to give you guys a little bit of context of our set-up: Obviously we all saw the news about the NBA and what happened in the NBA. There was no meaningful conversation up and until we got inside the stadium, talking about whispers and rumors about what was going to potentially happen with us. The decision to boycott a game has to be a decision made by every single player on both teams. So, first of all, there wasn't a whole lot of communication going on with Orlando. We weren't sure where they stood, they weren't really sure where we stood. Then, you have the other issue of, we're in the Orlando locker room — a visitor's locker room that's not big enough to house our entire 18-man roster. So we have 10 or 11 guys in one locker room and then we have the subs and reserves in a completely different area.

"So, even if we had everyone in the same locker room, the timeline was so crunched, there might not have even been time to make a decision. But then you add in the fact that we didn't even have everyone in the same room — it's almost impossible to try and get everyone together when everyone's preparing for a game and thinking that a game is going to be played, to be able to have time to come together, hear every single person out, go to the other locker room, speak with Orlando City, see where they stand, while also being on your phone talking to leaders of other groups and other teams and the Black Players for Change leadership — this is a very truncated timeline where there was so much uncertainty and confusion, and then you have your phones, not being able to use them at a certain point when you're starting to prepare for a game, that I think it was just a little bit too short of notice for us to be able to make any meaningful decision with regards to a boycott. It's not as cut and dry as maybe some people think it is."

Both players were clear on one thing: They stand with the other MLS players and athletes throughout the country who are using their platforms to call attention to the issues of racial injustice and police brutality.

"At this point in time, it's just a matter of the players being unified," said Anibaba, who is a leading member of the league's Black Players for Change coalition. "We will continue to discuss, we'll continue to talk about what makes the most sense. But obviously kneeling isn't enough. Obviously what we've been doing in showing our solidarity are things we've never seen in this league before. I don't think we've ever had two players that have served in this league for over a decade, one black, one white, sitting next to each other speaking on these issues. I don't think that's ever happened before. So, at this point in time, it's about unity. We'll continue to show that through our conversations and also our actions. 

"Tonight has shown exactly where we stand. As far as what is actually going on in this country, we're doing what we can, we're doing our part. We mobilized, we're organized, it's not just Black players that are speaking on this. We have my brother [McCarty] literally next to me talking on this as well. This is not just any longer a Black issue. Yes, our people getting killed. Yes, we're the ones that start the charge. But this is an American, human issue. And we've shown that in our league. So, I don't know what more we're going to have to do, but our players are showing that we're willing to do what it takes. We're willing to organize ourselves, we're willing to step out in the uncomfortable moments and kneel and obviously not play games. At this point in time, I really don't know, but something has to change."

Anibaba echoed McCarty in saying that Wednesday's match being played came down to the truncated timeline that didn't allow for the necessary communication with Orlando City about not playing.

"Whatever we were going to do, we knew that we had to both be on the same page," Anibaba said. "And what I mean by be on the same page is us and Orlando. So, once the game starts and once things are underway, both teams have to be on the same page and that wasn't the case, so we continued.

"As we were approaching the timeline where we weren't supposed to be on our phones, yeah, we were trying to figure out the pulse of everybody, where everybody landed on it. And we were literally reaching the timeline where we weren't supposed to be our phone anymore. We were still formulating a plan. So, I think it's very clear where we stand on the issue as far as the league is concerned. I don't think there's any question about that, despite the fact that we played 90 minutes tonight. Like I said, like Dax said, this isn't about football. We did what we had to do and did our best to still show where we stand as a club, while not having enough time to be able to boycott the game. Simple as that."

The players said they'll remain committed to finding ways to use their platforms not just to speak out, and also find ways to actually create tangible change in the fight for equality.

"Sports has to take a backseat right now," McCarty said. "I think the NBA has proven that, that they're at the forefront of this change. I think MLS has also proven that they're at the forefront of trying to affect positive change in communities. It's not easy. It doesn't happen overnight, you can't just snap your fingers and have everything magically be better. So, we're at the precipice at a time in our country where you want to be on the right side of history. You want to be on the side of history that says, 'I was a meaningful part of changing things for the better — of bringing awareness to the issues of social injustice and to making sure equality isn't just something we talk about, but something we put into action."