Alejandro Bedoya doesn’t score often enough to have a goal celebration. So what he did Sunday was completely unscripted, inspired partly by joy and partly by anger.
After scoring in the third minute of his professional soccer team’s game in Washington, D.C., Bedoya broke away from his Philadelphia Union teammates, picked up a sideline microphone and shouted “Hey Congress, do something now! End gun violence! Let’s go!”
It was the mic drop heard around the country. Before the game was over, Bedoya’s plea had gone viral and fans were raising money to pay whatever fine the league might levy.
Instead he was voted Major League Soccer’s player of the week.
“The support has been unreal. All over the world,” Bedoya said. “It’s crazy how just one little voice impacted something.”
It was a moment in need of a message.
Earlier that day a crazed gunman had gone on an early morning rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine and wounding more than two dozen. The day before a gunman armed with an assault rifle shot 48 people in an El Paso Walmart, killing 22.
A week earlier, a shooter at a food festival in Gilroy, Calif., killed three and injured more than a dozen.
That made 253 mass shooting in the U.S. this year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. Where was the outrage in the capital? Where was the action?
“Do something now! Let’s go!”
“‘Let’s go’ for me is Congress. All sides,” Bedoya said. “Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever you are, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Come together and work on solutions.
“You don’t agree with trying to end gun violence? C’mon, man.”
Seems simple, yet the 10 words Bedoya spoke into a cable TV microphone just two miles from the U.S. Capitol were more than many lawmakers could muster that day. Fifty Republicans were asked to come on a cable news network to discuss the issue; 49 of them declined.
At a time of a political paralysis in Congress, it’s fallen to players such as Bedoya to step forward. Whether it’s Megan Rapinoe calling for gay rights and gender equality, Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest racial injustice or LeBron James speaking out against police brutality and funding a school for at-risk kids in his hometown, high-profile athletes increasingly have become the moral compass of the nation.
It doesn’t really matter whether you agree with everything they say or stand for; the point is they’re standing while people elected to address these issues stay seated.
“My statement was not politically charged. It shouldn’t be seen as that,” Bedoya said. “It’s just me, as a concerned citizen of America, sharing the sentiments of other fellow Americans to do something.
“Doing nothing hasn’t done anything.”
Bedoya, 32, has played professionally in Sweden, Scotland, France and the U.S., which has informed many of his views. And as the son of Colombian immigrants, he has been an outspoken critic of President Trump’s attempts to ban refugees and asylum-seekers.
Those experiences have given him not just the knowledge to speak out, but the responsibility to do so as well. That’s not a responsibility reserved for politicians and athletes, which Bedoya wants to stress: It’s time for everyone to make themselves heard on issues like gun violence, especially at a time when there have been more mass shootings than days in the year.
“I used my platform. I used my voice, which I think is important for others to do as well, to keep the conversation going,” he said.
“Long before I was born, politics and sports have been intertwined. Especially after this weekend, how can you just watch a soccer game without thinking of something like that?”
Last year when James made personal and emotional comments that touched on politics in an ESPN interview, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham advised him to “shut up and dribble.”
Those words have become a rallying cry to athletes in every sport.
“That’s the stupidest logic I’ve ever heard,” Bedoya said of Ingraham’s comment. “Before I’m an athlete I’m a human being. And I think I’m a knowledgeable person that does some of the homework to try to understand the issues.
“I would never just shut up and dribble.”
Bedoya is hopeful, but not optimistic, that his action may in some small way help the break the logjam that has prevented the country from addressing gun violence in a meaningful way. There were too many coincidences, too many things that had to break just right for his message to get out, to make him think it was just happenstance.
Before the game, he said, he prayed for the victims of the mass shooting and then three minutes into the match, with the prayers still fresh in his mind, he scored for the first time since April. While celebrating with teammates, he caught sight of a sideline microphone. When he picked it up and yelled into it, he wasn’t sure it was even on — and if it was, he was sure Fox Soccer would keep the message from going out over the air.
After the game a police officer congratulated him.
“Good stuff, man. You’re viral,” he said.
And Bedoya hopes that moment will mean more than his 66 appearances for the U.S. national team or playing in the World Cup.
“It was meant to happen,” Bedoya said Tuesday. “I would be happier with having the ability to try to save lives than having been someone who kicked a ball around.”