It was a memorable moment.
Following the entrance of Inter Miami CF and Orlando City SC’s players onto the field ahead of the first MLS is Back Tournament match Wednesday night in Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, over 100 Black MLS players and staff from numerous teams followed and stood around the field.
As the field players for Miami and Orlando kneeled, all Black players and staff – both on field and on the sidelines – raised a single black-gloved fist and held it for over six minutes. The image was striking and referenced the protest of Black track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
Coordinated by the newly formed Black Players for Change (BPC) – a group of players brought together to elevate and amplify Black voices in sport while advocating for racial equality – the protest included players wearing t-shirts that included messaging of “silence is violence,” “Black and proud,” and “Black all the time.”
Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse, one of the founding members of the BPC and who took part in Wednesday’s demonstration, said that while the protest was powerful, it was but one step.
“I think you’re going to hear a lot more from us in the coming days but what is most important is that you saw us united –all 100 [players and staff] or however many of us there were – in the same scheme, same design with the messages that we printed on our shirts.
“That’s a testament to the kind of people we have in our group.”
And with the Timbers’ first game in the tournament approaching Monday against the LA Galaxy (7:30pm, FS1, 750 The Game), Ebobisse hinted that there was more to come from Portland players.
“As I say, you’re going to hear a lot more from us in the coming days, weeks, and hopefully years.”
More actions have already begun from other teams as the tournament continued through the week with numerous teams wearing special warm-up tops and pregame demonstrations. Montréal Impact head coach Thierry Henry kneeled for the first 8:46 minutes of their match against the New England Revolution Thursday night – a powerful show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and tribute to the memory of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police officers after they kneeled on his neck for 8:46 minutes.
Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala, one of the numerous Black Timbers players who took part in Wednesday’s demonstration in Orlando, was proud to be a part of it.
“It was a great moment,” he said. “Personally, I feel it was one of the first times where I can have, with the other guys, of course, a tribute like this where I can share my personal opinions this way.
“It’s so good to see all these guys defending the same cause and fighting for the same thing. And, at the same moment, to do so in front of so many people [on TV] is, I think, the best thing we could have and that’s what we wanted.”
While Wednesday’s moment and the demonstrations to come have all been powerful, Ebobisse stresses that they must all be followed up by action.
“It shouldn’t take this kind of moment to capture people’s attention,” he said. “But that’s okay, now act on it.
“It’s not enough to know that the criminal justice system is rigged or that education is one of the most inequitable systems in our society. It’s not enough. Talk to your local representatives, make sure that you’re holding them to a high standard that you’re starting to hold yourself to and then just keep learning and keep bringing your friends along.”