Sounders FC players voted to join their peers across Major League Soccer in opting to not play their Wednesday night match against the host Los Angeles Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“We thought about it really hard,” said Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam, a Black man born in Suriname, in a released statement. “We’re professional athletes but we’re also human beings. Sometimes as a professional athlete you live in some kind of a bubble, but we wanted to show everybody that, listen, we see what happens around us and those are things that can affect us too. As a group, we decided that we’re part of the world and we’ll let everybody see that the things that happen around us, we aren’t blind to it. That’s why we took a stand to not play today. I think you’ve seen it all over – other leagues and teams are also doing it. These are tough times, where we have to take a stand.”
The decision for MLS players and the rest of the sports world comes after Milwaukee Bucks players refused to take the court for their playoff game in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police officers in the Wisconsin town of Kenosha on Sunday.
“Disturbing times, not in the mood to play,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei posted via his Twitter account. “Human rights are bigger than sports.”
“Silence is violence. This fight is so much bigger than sports,” added Sounders forward Jordan Morris on Twitter.
Los Angeles FC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, whose club was set to play Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, tweeted, “We not playing tonight.”
Orlando City SC and Nashville SC were at halftime when the decisions were apparently made, but continued to play their game, which Orlando won 3-1, before a socially-distanced crowd at Exploria Stadium in Florida.
Earlier in the evening, MLS released a statement many understood to mean all games would be played. It read, in part, “The entire Major League Soccer family unequivocally condemns racism and has always stood for equality, but we need to do more to take tangible steps to impact change.”
The MLS Players Association issued a statement supporting the decision to not play. “Some things are far more important than sports,” it read. “Change must happen and athletes are committed to leading the way.”
The league instead was forced to postpone five of its six games scheduled for Wednesday. MLS is working on rescheduling the matches.
The NBA postponed all three playoff games Wednesday, and teams across sports, including the Mariners and the WNBA, have opted to postpone games in protest.
There could also be a league-wide strike for games this weekend. The Sounders are scheduled to play LAFC at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. Fans are not permitted to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We can’t just go about daily life as usual anymore,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, a first-generation U.S. resident, via released statement. “Regardless of race, everyone deserves a chance for an equal life and the fact that that is something that Black people in America have never had is something that needs to change. That is the message behind us not playing.”
Blake, who is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot multiple times in the back while his three children were present, is the latest example of potential police brutality in America, joining Manuel Ellis (Tacoma), Breonna Taylor (Louisville) and George Floyd (Minneapolis), the latter sparking global unrest since his May killing by a white police officer. When the MLS resumed play with a tournament in Florida, the league’s newly formed Black Players For Change orchestrated a demonstration in which for the opening match, all of MLS’s Black players stood around the perimeter of the field and held up their right fist in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time the police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck in killing him.
MLS players, including the Sounders, have worn Black Lives Matter T-shirts and kneeled before every game since July – although not for the full 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Some clubs added social justice work to their mission. The New York City FC signed a multi-year partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation to work within education.
The Sounders unveiled Tuesday an initiative that frames social justice work around voting, ending systemic racism, pushing for equality, and environmental issues.
“I fully support the players’ decision,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said in a statement. “As an American citizen, it is clear to me that our country is incredibly divided, and it saddens me that some people seem not to understand the importance of this movement. The violence that we are witnessing across our nation needs to be addressed, and tonight I am proud of the players for taking a stand and using their voices.”