The days of “shut and dribble” are gone, kicked into the national trash bin, where it joins such passe phrases as “stick to sports,” “stay in your lane,” and “who asked you?”
Thank you, Alejandro Bedoya.
And thank you, Major League Soccer.
As refreshing as it was to see Bedoya, a Philadelphia Union midfielder, react to scoring a goal by sprinting to the corner of a soccer pitch on Sunday and grab a hot microphone to plead for a humane response to the latest mass shootings in the United States, what happened on Monday was more significant.
While folks waited to see how MLS would react to Bedoya for making what always has been described as a “political statement” -- fine, suspension, or both -- the powers that be did no such thing.
Rather than issue discipline, they instead announced Bedoya, had been voted MLS Player of the Week.
Though there was, officially, no direct link between the award and the in-game plea uttered to a national audience through a TV mic -- “Congress, do something now. End gun violence! Let’s go!” -- that members of such an institution did not wring their hands or seek to repress Bedoya is an admission of recognition long overdue.
That sports and society are not mutually exclusive. Not that they ever were.
Like millions across the country, Bedoya, who was born in New Jersey but grew up in Florida, was sickened by the events hours earlier in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. An angry young man in El Paso killed 20 people (two more died Monday, raising the total to 22). Another angry young man killed nine in Dayton. There were calls to action from coast-to-coast, from politicians, entertainers, sports figures and beyond.
Even country music stars, usually careful to avoid tweaking their generally conservative fan bases, were on message with Bedoya. “True leaders don’t stand back and watch the world burn,” tweeted Kacey Musgraves. From Billy Ray Cyrus: “Be the change you wanna see.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, speaking in Las Vegas, where he is an assistant coach for Team USA as it prepares for the FIBA World Cup, said in part, “It's up to us as Americans to demand change from the gutless leadership that continues to allow this to happen and continues to somehow claim the second amendment is doing its job.”
What’s rare, however, for an American sports league to offer much more than sympathies. MLS not only not only gave its weekly honor to someone blazing through the news cycle for reasons beyond soccer, it also offered a few words that imply at least a measure of support for Bedoya and his spontaneous public-service announcement:
“The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue.”
MLS didn’t go far enough, but it also did not run from the issue. And by citing Bedoya as an example, it inches forward the conversation in ways other sports leagues wouldn’t dare. Perhaps it understands that silence, now, with mass homicidal madness on graphic display almost daily, is to be complicit in America’s unwillingness to confront the worst of itself.
Not only was MLS on message with Bedoya, but so was his team, which also issued a statement: “The Philadelphia Union support Alejandro Bedoya. He is taking a stand. The events that transpired this weekend across the country are deplorable. Our hearts go out to everyone affected.”
Union coach Jim Curtin took it a step further.
“I’m on his side. It’s outrageous. Things need to change in this country for sure,” Curtin told reporters in Washington. “And I’ll support anyone who speaks their mind and is intelligent and informed on it every time. That’s what Alejandro is. He’s passionate. He cares.
“And again, it’s a real issue in our country now that needs to change. A lot of people will tell me now and Ale to shut up, to stick to sports and all these stupid lines that come up. But it’s crazy. It’s crazy in our country right now and I think it needs to change as well.”
Bedoya, 32, is a former member of the U.S. Men’s National Team and among the most respected players in MLS. He was prepared for any heat that came his way from the Union, and from MLS.
He instead was given an award by one and a pat on the back by the other in what we can only hope this is a turn toward systematic enlightenment.