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Black MLS players form coalition to address systemic racism

Toronto FC's Justin Morrow controls the ball during a match against New York City FC.
Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow started the Black Players Coalition of MLS, which looks to promote cultural education and combat implicit bias.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

A group of Black Major League Soccer players has formed a coalition to address systematic racism in their communities and bring about change within the league.

The coalition is the result of an Instagram group that began after the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, which spawned a wave of nationwide protests against racism and policy brutality.

Started by Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow, the group grew to some 70 MLS players, who formed the Black Players Coalition of MLS.

Morrow said players were already under stress because of the coronavirus when they were threatened with a lockout in contract talks. The league suspended play March 12 because of the pandemic.

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“And then on top of that charge, George Floyd is killed. And so it kind of felt like my world was crumbling. And when I reached out to my my Black soccer player peers, they all felt the same way,” Morrow said. “When we came together on that call, it was the most hopeful thing in one of the darkest weeks of my entire life.

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Morrow said the conversations centered on whether players felt supported by the league. The players concluded it would be best to form an organization.

There were three goals, Morrow said: to give Black players a voice in the league; to encourage Black representation in the players’ association and higher levels of MLS; and to help local communities.

“We’ve already come to the table with Major League Soccer and had conversations with them about things that we’d like to see changed,” Morrow said during a video conference call. “We want to see action: These slogans, these statements are no longer enough. We want real change. So what is that going to look like in Major League Soccer? What is that going to look like in our communities? And how are we going about that?”

Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse, Chicago’s CJ Sapong, Nashville’s Jalil Anibaba, NYCFC’s Sean Johnson and Colorado’s Kei Kamara are among some of the other players involved.

The coalition has proposed training to promote cultural education and combat implicit bias. It also wants to hire a chief diversity officer. The group has discussed developing the game in Black communities and partnering with charities. The group has already secured $75,000 in charitable contributions by the MLS Players Assn.

“Major League Soccer proudly recognizes and supports the Black Players Coalition of MLS — a group of players who today, on Juneteenth, have established themselves as influential change leaders,” MLS said in a statement. “The league looks forward to continued and longstanding collaborations.”


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