Moments before Major League Soccer became the biggest North American professional sports league to return to the field of play amid the global coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday night, a coalition of Black players in the league led an lengthy moment of silence before Orlando City and Inter Miami kicked off the MLS is Back Tournament in Central Florida.
The Tennesseean reported that more than 170 players from around the league planned to take part in the protest beforehand. The unusual length of the display appeared to be by design. On May 25, unarmed African-American George Floyd was killed in police custody after a Minneapolis officer kneeled on the handcuffed man’s neck for almost nine minutes. The viral video of that incident — and other like it in recent months — has sparked ongoing worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
Members MLS’s Black Players for Change coalition and other players entered the field alongside the two teams at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, host of the month-long, World Cup-style event. Clad in black t-shits emblazoned with different messages calling for social justice, they held up their fists in a manner reminiscent of United States Olympic medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics. All 22 starters for Orlando and Miami — plus the match officials — lowered themselves to one knee in solidarity.
And they did it again moments later, seconds before the game began, just as teams in the English Premier League have been since that league returned last month.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.