The Inter Miami and Atlanta United players' decision to sit out their scheduled match on Wednesday went right down to the wire. One MLS game had already kicked off as league-wide player discussions coalesced into their refusal to play, and news of the game's postponement did not emerge until after the scheduled kick off time.
Ultimately, players from Miami and Atlanta collectively decided to sit out the match, following the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, who didn't report to the court for their scheduled playoff game against the Orlando Magic that afternoon, as players continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“It was a decision we felt we needed to make that was bigger than the two locker rooms," Jeff Larentowicz told media on a video conference call on Thursday. "It was an acknowledgment of emotions on high. Before we’re athletes, we’re humans.”
Larentowicz explained what went down from Atlanta's point of view over those whirlwind few hours.
Sitting in the team hotel for a few hours before what was supposed to be kickoff, Larentowicz was preparing to head into a pre-game team meeting when the messages started flying over potentially not playing.
“It was a groundswell of emotion," Larentowicz said. "There was a lot of things going on, decisions made in real-time."
As discussions went on, Larentowicz told interim head coach Stephen Glass that it was a possibility they'd sit the game out. They hadn't decided anything either way, but he wanted to be sure his interim boss was kept up to date with the possibilities. The players continued the conversation amongst themselves, they spoke with players across the league and they spoke with leadership at Black Players for Change to see what they felt the best decision would be.
Larentowicz met with Inter Miami captain Luis Robles before warmups began. They kept the communication open before the teams took the field for warmups.
After warmups, no decision was yet made. The players were balancing trying to prepare for a match while weighing whether or not they were going to play. They re-entered the locker room before ultimately deciding to sit the game out.
“It was all happening in real-time," Larentowicz said. "Everyone was trying to gather appropriate information and in those last less than 30 minutes, the decision was on us. We got prepared as if (we were going to play) but also continued discussions as to what made the most sense.”
The players believe the decision to use their platform to support the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and social injustice helps keep the conversation going, while both Atlanta United and Major League Soccer have a number of initiatives intent on enacting lasting change.
“Not playing the game isn’t going to solve anything," Larentowicz said. "But I think it bolsters unity. It shows support so change can continue, so we can figure out ways to work together to effect change.”