Major League Soccer has been making news on multiple fronts lately.
Less than a day before the league unveiled its plans to resume its 25th anniversary season in Orlando on July 8 — which would make it the first American-based men’s sports league to return amid the coronavirus pandemic — MLS announced it would support players who choose to use the national anthem played before games to peacefully protest police brutality and systemic racism against the Black community.
The news comes just days after Yahoo Sports reported that U.S. Soccer will consider scrapping its anthem rule, which was adopted after USWNT star Megan Rapinoe took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a 2016 match in solidarity with then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
MLS is the first North American sports league to explicitly say that it would back any players who decide to kneel following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man killed while in police custody in Minnesota. Shocking video of Floyd’s death has sparked outrage and massive protests in the U.S. and across the globe over the last two weeks.
Like most other North American leagues, MLS has never specifically compelled its players to stand during the pregame ceremony. The NBA has had a rule on its books for decades, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver has stopped short of saying that it would actually be enforced if a player or players broke it to protest social injustice.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, hasn’t played in the NFL since the end of the 2016 season. He accused the NFL of blackballing him; the league settled the ensuing lawsuit in February. Several NFL players have continued to kneel or sit during the anthem over the last four years.
Last week, MLS-based U.S. men’s national teamers Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Reggie Cannon, Sean Johnson and Jonathan Lewis appeared in a video demanding change in overaggressive policing tactics. On Sunday, D.C. United players and staff painted “I can’t breathe” and “BLM” — the abbreviation for Black Lives Matter — on the playing field at their stadium just a few miles from the White House.
Before losing consciousness, Floyd told then-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin that he couldn’t breathe as Chauvin pressed his knee into the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Chauvin was fired and charged with second degree murder.
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