Mark McKenzie, USMNT Urged Congress to Enforce Gun Control

Mark McKenzie, USMNT Urged Congress to Enforce Gun Control originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Mark McKenzie and the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team issued a challenge. Not to an opposing soccer team, but to Congress.

In the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, the team wrote a letter to Congress in June calling for stronger gun legislation.

“We have children losing their parents and parents losing children,” McKenzie said on NBC LX’s “My New Favorite Futbolista” podcast. “It’s shameful. It’s disgraceful. And as a country, we’ve got to do better.”

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Between January and August of 2022, the United States had over 450 mass shootings, which is defined as a shooting where at least four people are shot, either injured or killed, not including the shooter, per the Gun Violence Archive.

On May 24, 2022 – just 10 days after 10 Black people were killed in a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. – 19 students and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The massacre in Uvalde was the 27th school shooting of the year in the United States to that point, per Education Week, which has tracked school shootings since 2018.

In the days that followed, the USMNT wrote a letter to Congress, questioning when something will be done about gun violence in America and imploring the House of Representatives and Senate to “stand with the majority of Americans who support stronger gun laws.”

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McKenzie, a defender on the U.S. men’s team, said he couldn’t fathom the thought of putting a child on the bus and later learning there was a shooting at their school.

“We have dads on the team, we have moms on the national team, as well,” McKenzie said. “So, you think about that and you think about the emotions that are connected to it. I think it was only right for us as a federation to take that step as a team. So, I can only pray that more regulations are put in place to kind of take military grade weaponry and, honestly, weaponry that’s unnecessarily on the streets, out of the streets and out of the wrong hands.”

With members of the USMNT regularly traveling the globe and playing overseas, they are often asked how gun violence is so rampant in the United States, and why elected officials do nothing to stop it.

“It got to the point where it’s a little bit like I don’t even know how I can defend the country anymore, you know what I mean?” said U.S. defender DeAndre Yedlin, who played in the English Premier League from 2015 to 2021. “It gets to the point where it’s kind of an everyday thing and, you know, unfortunately you almost become numb to it because it happens so often, you know? Being in a country like England where there’s really no shootings at all, a shooting is like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy. This is crazy.’”

Fellow defender Chris Richards, an Alabama native who spent four years playing in Germany before joining Crystal Palace in England, feels safer when he is living abroad.

“Honestly, it makes me feel kind of sad because it’s crazy how a place where I’ve lived for going on four years now can make me feel more safe than my hometown,” Richards said. “And just everything going on now with the gun violence, with just violence in general, it’s something that’s really almost taboo in Germany and in Europe in general.

“There’s so many strict gun laws that you don’t ever hear about no school shootings or you rarely hear about shootings in general. And so my dad tells me all the time, ‘Yeah, I feel much safer with you living in Germany than you living here or when you come home.”

The team discussed what could be done to inspire change. They opted against wearing shirts or releasing a statement on social media, which Yedlin said are methods that have become cliche and ineffective.

“You have to get to the root and the people that have the power to make a real change. And that was Congress,” Yedlin said. “So, we decided that would be the fastest route. Route one. We have a big platform. And at that point, we felt that was the group that we needed to really get to to try and make a change.”

On June 24, the Senate passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was signed into law the following day by President Joe Biden. It requires more background checks, adds convicted domestic violence abusers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, sets aside $750 million for crisis intervention, increases registration of licensed firearm dealers and provides $15 billion in mental health funding and school security.

Biden held an event to celebrate the passage of the bill, and former USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya was in attendance.

“It was just a monumental kind of moment, just as you’re aware of the first type of gun sense legislation that’s been passed in almost 30 years, so that was huge in itself,” Bedoya said. “But at the same time, it was tragic, right? Because at the event, you also see a lot of the families who have been traumatized by the gun violence that is so pervasive in our country.”

Gregg Berhalter, the coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, commended his players for using their platform to call on Congress to take action and prevent gun violence.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in our little world and what we’re doing and you forget about what’s going on in the outside world,” Berhalter said. “And this group didn’t do that.”

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