Black Players for Change - fists up back to camera

Making their voices heard: MLS coaches, players continue fight for social justice

After a historic evening in sports on Wednesday, that saw widespread protests across sports in America in player-led movements to protest social injustice after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin and in support the Black Lives Matter movement, much of the discussion Friday continued along that conversation.

Here's what coaches and players told the media during their media sessions heading into the weekend:

Atlanta United

Like in many other locker rooms across the league, Atlanta interim head coach Stephen Glass has worked to ensure the players know they're supported and not alone.

"In talking with all the players, it's about making sure they're feeling good about themselves," Glass said. "They're feeling respected so they can feel brave enough and open enough to give their opinion on things. They're part of a group here that will back them, the staff and the club will give them that backing."

Colorado Rapids

Colorado Rapids manager Robin Fraser | USA Today Sports Images

Rapids manager Robin Fraser struck a hopeful tone about the national climate surrounding racial justice, expressing the believe that there is more positive, public momentum toward the cause than there has ever been in his lifetime. And he doesn't understand why anyone would think athletes shouldn't be leaders of that momentum.

"I think if you have the ability to effect change, no matter who you are and what you are, why would anybody question that?" Fraser said. "If you are trying to effect change that is for the good of society, why would anyone question where that comes from. So I don’t really have a lot of time for that comment."

That said, the Jamaican-born former U.S. international understands the work ahead is not easy nor simple.

"I often think about, ‘What is the end game here?’" Fraser said. "The end game here really is that everyone is comfortable in society and feels equal to everyone else. I think that’s the end game. The steps of how to get there are not exactly clear. But that’s certainly where ultimately this has to go."

D.C. United

D.C. United goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr., shown here in action with his former club, Orlando City SC | USA Today Sports Images

D.C. United goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. is an executive board member of Black Players for Change and helped coordinate Wednesday's actions.

"Things moved really fast (on Wednesday)," Earl Edwards Jr. said. "Through the BPC we were able to coordinate what we did, with help of the entire player pool. In terms of an impact of a statement that can be made in sports, I think it was one of the bigger ones to take place this century. I was glad to help with that, I'm glad our player pool was able to execute."

It sounds like this weekend's games will go on, though.

"Talking with my team, they were fully willing to boycott the game this weekend if it came to that," Edwards Jr. said. "As the BPC, we decided it was important to get back to playing. We were happy with the impact and the statement we made in boycotting the games Wednesday."

D.C. are set to play the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, but Julian Gressel wasn't in the mood to talk about the game.

"I think the conversations need to stay about Black Lives Matter," Gressel said. "It's as simple as that. I don't want to speak about the game.

Houston Dynamo

The Dynamo introduced new additions Wilfried Zahibo and Ariel Lassiter to the media on Friday and both commented on the recent protests.

“I think it’s important we as players show solidarity. What happened with Jacob Blake is something that shouldn’t have happened," said Zahibo. "We see also the NBA players showing solidarity and we do it too. I think it’s a good step forward for change and for bringing more equality, more peace and to show people that are on the ledge about the situation what’s going on in America and all around the world.”

“I think it’s great that if one stands, we all stand together," said Lassiter. "That we’re always a. unit across the league. I think it’s important that our voices are heard and our actions are backed by that. It is a little bit different because situations like this don’t happen in Costa Rica happen too often. To be part of this is very important, not only for the sport but as a country.”

LAFC

When LAFC head coach Bob Bradley and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye addressed the media as part of a virtual pre-match press conference ahead of their clash against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, there was seldom talk about the game. 

Both Bradley and Kaye were focused on social justice, fighting with the Black Lives Matter movement against racial inequity, police brutality and more. 

"As a coach, we think about ‘we’. What are we about, what do we stand for," Bradley told reporters. "Today, when I think about ‘we’, it’s not just our team. It’s not just LAFC. ‘We’ for me today is all the people that really want change." Check out the full quote in the video below.

Kaye reflected on Wednesday night's historic events and how supported he felt by his teammates and club.

"Immense repsect and support came from my players and teammates," Kaye said. "Once I expressed my feelings, they all backed me up. Wednesday was a big moment to know that it’s not just Black people in this fight, it’s all these other races and ethnicities that want to end racism because it affects everyone.”

New England Revolution

Revs head coach Bruce Arena, in an interview with Zolak and Bertrand on 98.5 The Sports Hub, spoke about the recent protests:

New York Red Bulls

Club captain praised Black Players for Change for keeping teams updated and informed throughout the last few days since the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks were the first North American pro team to announce they would not compete in their scheduled game. And he also empathized with the frustration of those who might be feeling the process has been cyclical, with previous demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May only leading to more injustice, in turn only leading to more protest.

"Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been updated by the Black Players for Change, and ultimately it feels like games are going on (this weekend)," he said. "But right now soccer seems so secondary, and there’s much bigger issues at play here. I think, again, we just all need to do our part. We all need to continue to educate ourselves, we all need to be honest with each other, and we have to continue to grow.

"We might not see the changes day to day. We hope to, that’s the goal. But this is bigger than that. This is for generations to come. It’s not only for ourselves, but for our kids and their kids, and you know, I think that this is a really important time in American history."

Philadelphia Union

Union head coach Jim Curtin salutes the players' across sports for their stance on Wednesday night, calling it the most important gesture he's seen in his career, both playing and coaching.

"Far and away the most important and it’s not even close," Curtin said. "It speaks to the growth of the league, the power of the Players’ Union, how unified they are in the statements they put forward. Again, it needs to be said, the players are the ones who deserve the credit for this. In the NBA, the WBNA, MLS – the guys that are brave enough to not go out there. Because we all recognize now, by them not taking the field, let’s just be blunt, that affects billionaires’ pockets, that affects the media, that affects advertisement dollars, and those three entities that I just named are the one that can pick up a phone and call a politician and get through to them and actually have some of this change and this dialogue.

"Sports are important and when they stop the reality is it affects peoples’ pockets, and now we want to change for positive," Curtin continued. "We just want what’s right for the treatment of human beings to have everyone treated the same way."

San Jose Earthquakes

Quakes goalkeeper Matt Bersano shared a powerful message:

“What’s going in America is a terrible thing and we have the opportunity to just keep doing like we were doing before," Bersano said. "… That’s just not right with the position we have and the ability we have to make change and put pressure on people … We’re the changemakers.”

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