Black MLS players form coalition to combat racism in soccer across U.S., Canada

More than 70 black Major League Soccer players have formed the Black Players Coalition of MLS, the organization announced Friday.

In a statement, the BPC said it "will address the racial inequalities in our league, stand with all those fighting racism in the world of soccer, and positively impact black communities across the United States and Canada."

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On a video conference call with reporters, Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow, who is the organization's executive director, said the BPC's goals are threefold: to have a voice in all racial matters as it relates to MLS, increased black representation in the MLS Players Association and the highest levels of MLS, and to have an impact in black communities.

The BPC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, will lobby for initiatives such as implicit bias training and cultural education courses, while its community efforts will include targeted spending, educational advancement initiatives and mentorship programs.

So far, the Black Players Coalition of MLS has secured $75,000 in charitable contributions by the MLS Players Association on behalf of the coalition.

The BPC's board members are Philadelphia Union defender Ray Gaddis, Chicago Fire forward C.J. Sapong, former D.C. United forward Quincy Amarikwa, FC Cincinnati defender Kendall Waston, Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse, New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, Nashville SC defender Jalil Anibaba, Colorado Rapids forward Kei Kamara, Minnesota United defender Ike Opara and D.C. United goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.

The announcement coincides with Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, the day on which Union forces in Galveston, Texas, delivered the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to the region.

MLS, in a statement, said it stands fully in support of the organization's formation and its goals.

"MLS 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," the statement read. "The League looks forward to continued and longstanding collaborations with the Black Players Coalition of MLS through efforts aimed at developing the game in Black communities, prioritizing diversity, and addressing implicit bias through league-wide cultural and educational initiatives."

Morrow said the genesis of the group's formation came amid a confluence of events. The coronavirus pandemic and negotiations between the MLSPA and MLS on a new collective bargaining agreement were already causes of tension in the lives of the players.

But the death of George Floyd on May 25 while in the custody of the Minneapolis police created in Morrow's words "a lot of pain, a lot of frustration."

A group of players began meeting via Instagram, and a pair of questions were asked: Were they happy with the way the league treated black players, and did the players who were meeting feel supported by MLS? The answer to both queries was no. When the group's numbers grew too big for Instagram, subsequent meetings took place on video calls with even more of the league's black players.

"It kind of felt like my world was crumbling, and when I reached out to my black soccer player peers, they all felt the same way," Morrow said. "And so when we came together on that call, it was the most hopeful thing in one of the darkest weeks of my entire life. And I say that because it was like seeing my brothers and being in a room full of friends. And you know, everyone was there full of love and compassion. And it was really there that we decided that we needed an organization for ourselves."

Portland's Ebobisse said the hope is that the organization will foster change now and in the future.

"One of the central focuses is elevating our voices as a player pool and creating a sustainable path, sustainable organization that can create change and that's going to outlive all of our careers and be passed down to the next generation so that they can continue these efforts," he said.

Morrow stressed that while he was involved in some of the initial conversations, the formation of the BPC was a group effort that was driven by Amarikwa.

Amarikwa said that he was disappointed that it "took what happened to Floyd to wake everybody up," but, like Ebobisse, he is optimistic about the group's potential to have a long-term impact.

"Our willingness to work through our collective issues and problems together, and understand that we're all in this together, and we all have separate experiences and perspectives, is proof to me that this is not going to be a flash in the pan," he said.