Bob Bradley had a few things he wanted to get off his chest Friday.
Two days earlier the LAFC coach had seen his team, and nine others in Major League Soccer, refuse to play to call attention to racism, social inequality and police brutality.
Bradley stood with them because, despite having spent his life in soccer, he said the sport “is not the most important thing.” But it does offer some helpful lessons.
“The divide that everybody talks about right now? As a coach we always think about ‘we,’ ” Bradley said. “What are ‘we’ about? What do ‘we’ stand for?
“And so today when I think about ‘we’ it’s not just team. It’s not just LAFC. We, for me, would be all the people that really want change.”
LAFC will return to the field Sunday in Seattle, its first road game of the regular season. On Saturday the Galaxy will play at home for the first time since early March when they face San Jose. Both games come at the end of an emotional week in MLS, one in which many believe progress toward a conversation on race was begun.
MLS announced Friday that team owners agreed to meet with members of Black Players for Change — a group representing the roughly 200 Black players in the league — to discuss ways to “create long-term change both inside and outside of MLS.” No timetable for the talks was given but they are expected to begin early next week.
— LAFC (@LAFC) August 28, 2020
“Wednesday was a big moment,” LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said. “No one planned for it. It just happened. That shows that there’s a real passion around what’s going on, the change we want to see.
“I was very proud of the players who took the risk not to play, to take a stance on something that is much more important than the game at hand.”
The MLS was following the lead of the NBA, whose players agreed to forgo playoff games Wednesday to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, in Kenosha, Wis. MLS players, inspired by the move, quickly began to exchange text messages and emails to discuss their course of action.
Conversations still were being had when Nashville kicked off in Orlando, but nine other teams decided not to play, most after arriving at the stadium. The Galaxy was the only team that didn’t get to vote, though they didn’t need to — their opponent, the Seattle Sounders, refused to play and headed back to Seattle before many Galaxy players entered their locker room.
On Friday, Galaxy coach Guillermo Barrios Schelotto left little doubt where the team’s allegiances lie.
“If it happens here on in any other country, we don't like what is happening out there. Sometimes you have to make decisions to show your stand,” Schelotto, an Argentine, said in Spanish. “As a foreign coach is difficult to put out an opinion.
“As humans, we have to do whatever we can to turn a light on what is happening, to try to avoid that it keeps happening. Not only in this country; we should work in ways to find a more just world."
Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan agreed.
“Soccer is my life. I never want to miss a game,” he said. “But we all knew in our hearts that the game was less important that day. The conversation needs to keep going.”
Kljestan said athletes have an important platform and he’d like to see those in MLS continue to follow the NBA’s lead by talking less about the game and more about bigger issues.
“We’re in a pivotal moment right now,” he said. “A month from now hopefully we’re getting guys talking about registering for voting to be prepared for the November election. That we have people talking about their opinions and what we want to see actually changed.”
Bradley was talking about that Friday. And the coach, who took the U.S. to a World Cup and managed the Egyptian national team during a time of bloody political unrest at home, wasn’t afraid to speak from the heart.
“Black lives matter is simple. For too long in this country, Black lives didn’t matter,” he said. “And whether you wear the T-shirt, whether you stand for the national anthem, whether you kneel for the national anthem, those aren't the important issues. The important issues are that we believe there must be change.
“And now it's more than just a gesture. It's finding real ways. I believe that there's enough people on the right side of all of this. But man oh man, if we let the words and the lies divide us, then they're winning.”
Bradley said it was tough to know what the truth was in Egypt because the news and social media was so full of disinformation. He sees the same thing happening in the U.S. and it worries him.
“It takes us off our fundamental sense of what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “We can’t let that happen in the United States.”
“I believe that taking a stand for something that is right is patriotism,” he continued. “And I believe that standing in front of people as a leader and telling lies is not patriotism.
“We must find a way to stand together.”
This week MLS just might have done that.