DC United

D.C. United's Bill Hamid a board member of newly formed Black Players Coalition of MLS

D.C. United's Bill Hamid a board member of newly formed Black Players Coalition of MLS

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 at the hands of Minneapolis police, which spawned a wave of nationwide protests against racism and police 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 new coronavirus when they were threatened with a lockout in contract talks. The league suspended play March 12 because of the pandemic.

“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 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 Association.

“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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D.C. United's Bill Hamid explains how Black Players for Change seeks to improve soccer

D.C. United's Bill Hamid explains how Black Players for Change seeks to improve soccer

Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.

NBC Sports Washington is launching the second part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America. This week, Bill Hamid, Renaldo Wynn and Ish Smith joined Chis Miller for the second of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.

Nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd have been necessary to light a fire under people in positions to make necessary changes to combat racial injustices.

Since the protests began nearly two months ago, no area of society has gone untouched by the current social justice movement, including sports. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its races, and drivers stood behind Bubba Wallace in unprecedented fashion after a noose-like rope was found in his garage. The NBA dedicated the rest of its season to shed light on racial injustices. And the NFL pledged a $250 million donation to help in the fight.

In soccer, Black MLS players took it into their own hands to create the change they wanted to see. Following Floyd’s death, over 70 players, including D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid created the Black Players Coalition of MLS, which has since been renamed Black Players for Change. 

Hamid talked about why the coalition was necessary on “Race in America,” a panel hosted by NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, where he was also joined by Wizards guard Ish Smith and former Washington defensive end Renaldo Wynn. He said the group's mission is to make a difference in inner-cities, whether it be with fees for kids to play soccer, childhood obesity, or mass incarceration.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the opportunity to speak about what would make a difference for us, what would help the Black player coming out of university or coming out of high school,” Hamid said. “How do we get into the inner city and into their cities and really make a difference? There’s not much of that going on, and we’ve seen that for a while, we’ve seen that for a long time. And a few of us came together and we said we need to start this. This is our opportunity.”

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH BILL HAMID, ISH SMITH & RENALDO WYNN'S FULL DISCUSSION

Hamid said every single Black player in Major League Soccer is part of the group, which recently announced a partnership with the Players Coalition headed by the NFL’s Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins.

“I mean, the talks that we have, the Zoom calls that we put together, the insight from the oldest Black player in Major League Soccer to the very youngest, just giving everybody a voice to speak. What do we want to do? What changes do we want to make? It’s been one of the most powerful things I’ve ever been a part of in my life,” Hamid said.

Black Players for Change gives MLS an opportunity to be at the forefront of creating equality in a sport that has struggled to eliminate racism. Particularly in European leagues, Hamid said it’s an ongoing battle.

“Soccer has a lot of systemic racial issues going on, whether it be with agents, agencies, contracts dealing with a player of color, it’s tough,” Hamid said. “Fortunately, I’ve played most of my career in Washington, D.C., for D.C. United, so I haven’t seen too much racial bias, but I would say for a lot of other players and a lot of other leagues, bigger countries too, and they go to the countries to go with their family, and they’re the ultimate idea of the minority. So, the fan bases and the ultras, as they call them in soccer, I mean, from monkey chains to throwing bananas on the field -- that’s one of the more popular things that we’ve seen in European football -- bananas being thrown on the field from the fans. And players have been so emotional in the middle of games that they have to walk off the field."

Hamid said FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” campaign is an attempt to rid the sport of such hateful acts, but as is the case in America and around the world, there’s so much more work to be done.

“For some reason, it just hasn’t subsided. So, it’s an ongoing fight,” Hamid said. “Especially in soccer, it’s an ongoing fight. It’s a predominantly caucasian sport, and we still have to break through a lot of barriers as players of color. But that’s a fight that we’ve taken by starting the Black Players Coalition.”

You can watch the full panel by clicking here.

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MLS postpones DC United match against Toronto FC amid health concerns

MLS postpones DC United match against Toronto FC amid health concerns

D.C. United’s opening match of the MLS is Back tournament against Toronto FC on Sunday was postponed minutes before play was set to begin.

The league announced that upon testing both clubs for the coronavirus Saturday, one player received “an initial unconfirmed positive” and another’s test came back inconclusive. Citing health protocols that require all players to be retested before playing again, the MLS decided to reschedule Sunday’s match for Monday morning.

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According to The Washington Post’s Steven Goff, MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott told reporters on a conference call that the positive test came from a sample of a D.C. United player. Rookie forward Erik Sorga was originally slated to be on the team’s bench but was dropped off the game-day roster with no announcement coming from the club.

Goff also reported that the MLS cleared both teams to arrive at the complex in Orlando for the match Sunday. D.C. United did so while Toronto FC stayed back.

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