The return of the 2020 MLS season was as much about the on-field result as it was a powerful pregame statement.
Before Orlando City beat Inter Miami, 2-1, to begin the MLS is Back Tournament, over 100 members of the Black Players for Change demonstrated on the field. Clad in shirts that read “Silence is Violence,” “Black and Proud” and other phrases, they stood around the pitch with a fist raised in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The entire protest lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds, in remembrance of George Floyd’s death in police custody this past May in Minneapolis. There was complete silence, but a wave of emotion hit Miami goalkeeper Luis Robles.
“To be able to gather all the players that were on the field today I think is an incredible feat, but more than anything to use their platform to be an agent of change is very important and it’s something as an athlete you really have to consider,” Robles said.
“When you look at the position we have to influence our community, our nation and the fans of this league, to be able to do something like that is a very, very positive and powerful thing. I’m glad that and very honored to even be on the field, sharing that moment with those guys.
Robles also wore a special captain’s armband during the match, and players sported a “MLS Unites” jersey patch that advocated for social change. They also are wearing warmup tops that harken on Black Players for Change mantras.
Nani, who took home Heineken Man of the Match honors after recording one goal and one assist, reflected on the protest’s importance.
“We all know we want to change the world, we want a better world,” Nani said. “We want people to look at anyone without difference… no differences between anyone, no discrimination for color or nationality. I think the decision at the beginning of the game, the performance of everyone was beautiful.”
As for the long-term aspirations? Inter Miami forward Juan Agudelo, a father himself, hopes the movement helps to create a better future, one that increases equality and opportunity.
“It was beautiful to see all the players come together on the field like that as one,” Agudelo said. “Being on the field I can tell you was very powerful to put my fist up and to be there with so many people who are trying to make a change in this country. And that’s what we need to do. Not even for us, but for our kids to kind of evolve as humans."