Continuing our conversations with the newly-announced Black Players Alliance of the USL, The Beautiful Game Network heard from USLBPA members Tyler David of Union Omaha, Peabo Doue of Loudoun United, Devante Dubose of Richmond Kickers, Brandon Miller and Hugh Roberts of Charlotte Independence regarding the decision to play matches rather than sitting out like other major sports and the dialogue in the locker room.
Beautiful Game Network: Two weeks ago, we saw games across the NBA, MLS, NHL, and more put on hold as players decided not to play to bring more attention to social justice. Thus far, only Memphis 901 FC elected to reschedule their match vs. North Carolina FC back on 8/29. What went into the decision to play rather than sit out matches? Is it tough to focus on actually playing matches these days?
Tyler David: In my opinion, each market is a little different and the most important part of demonstrations is the impact it has. In Omaha, I think the impact we have had on the community by playing, demonstrating, kneeling, etc. has been tremendous to initiate conversations that may not have ever been had if we were not playing. Soccer is a game that can bring the community together in all sorts of ways and I think in this instance it is creating a lot of awareness and amazing opportunities for several areas of the country.
As far as focusing on playing, it’s not hard to focus on playing because even though inequality is a huge issue for many at the moment, it’s been an issue I have been aware of my entire life. Yes, I am trying to do more to advocate for Black people in particular, but it’s been a lifestyle, not just a singular movement.
Peabo Doue: I think it was a brave and appropriate statement by Tim Howard and his group. Times are heavy and everybody is processing life differently. For me, a boycott from every team in the league would have sent a strong message but we need to continue to use our voices and build on our current actions to make sustainable change.
Devante Dubose: First off, I think we should pay our respects to Memphis 901, from the players all the way to ownership, they were the first team in the USL to make that collective decision to sit out. It is not easy being the first to make a decision that could have consequences. By Memphis taking the initiative, they have encouraged and empowered us all to act without fear, whether that opting to sit out or electing to play, a movement within the USL birthed, the USLPBA emerged confidently and representatives all around USL. championship and League One came together to strategize a plan to bolster Black Lives Matter as on voice.
Brandon Miller: As a group, we’ve discussed how we want to respond to everything that has happened more recently. Other leagues around the country took a powerful stand earlier in the week by deciding not to play and we fully back their decision as well as the decision of the Memphis players to not participate this weekend. The important thing for us as a (new) organization is to stay together and support each other. We understand the powerful message of not playing and we also understand the powerful message we can send on the field by protesting. The actions by every player last night in the 3 USL games played were very moving for me; it went a long way in showing the solidarity of all players in both leagues. Soccer isn’t the main focus right now, using our platforms to make an impact is at the forefront.
Hugh Roberts: Yes I would like for matches to continue with some form of protest. I think we need to stay unified and remind people we are more than just pawns to a company. I’ve heard there are some concerns on the duration of these protests, but this is my daily life and struggle that’s never going away, so bringing constant awareness of that will continue to educate the majority who don’t understand what we go through.
BGN: The USLBPA obviously led the protests, but players of all backgrounds around both leagues have participated. How have the conversations been in the locker room, especially with your white teammates?
David: The conversations amongst my teammates have been very impactful. We are all learning and coming together and even though we come from different backgrounds with several different opinions, I think it has helped bring us together even more. I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate the support of my teammates.
Doue: We have an open floor when it comes to these conversations. (Loudoun United head coach) Ryan (Martin) is always open to dialogue and encourages us to really digest what is going on in the world right now. That openness has uncovered talks with some of my teammates. Shane (Wiedt) and I had a really honest conversation about the recent boycotts and personally. I felt like that it had a positive influence on our relationship.
Dubose: Not just for white players in the locker room, it can be uncomfortable for anyone to have these conversations on racial injustice and disparities. It’s not just a white thing. This is a “how does everybody feel” situation, if anything for our white counterparts, this has been an opportunity to just listen and educate themselves. Soccer may have brought us in the same room, but to see everyone have a listening mind makes us all feel better understood as human beings. So far, everyone in our locker room has been supportive, and more willing to see each other beyond the ball so that we can all better understand the disparities around us, and now, there is a stronger will to impact the communities around us.
Miller: Every locker room is so different. I can’t speak for every locker room, but I know our locker room in Charlotte has been supportive of what individual players have done to fight for social justice. It is massively important to have the support of all players in the league, especially white teammates, in order for our voices to have an even greater impact. It’s important for everyone to understand what their support means and how impactful it can be. Verbal support is great, but I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it: words without actions don’t mean much at this point. I challenge players, not just white players but everyone who wants to support, to figure out how they can do so beyond posting statements on social media. If you’re unsure, I implore you to come ask us!
Stay tuned for additional dialogue from the USLBPA regarding topics centered around the fight for racial equality in the United States.