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Reggie Cannon, like most of the U.S. men's national soccer team, has traveled the globe representing his country and playing his sport. He grew up in Texas, some five hours from Uvalde, but he now lives in Portugal. And so, as news of May's devastating shooting in his home state left Cannon "completely distraught," his Portuguese teammates, he said, were "really confused."
"What's going on in America?" they ask whenever American gun violence makes international news.
Cannon then must explain to them: Unlike in every other developed country, in the U.S., mass shootings are "not a surprise." They are, Cannon says with a sigh, "kind of normal for us."
His experience, and dozens similar to it across the U.S. roster, helped inform a letter that the USMNT players and staff sent to Congress pleading for stronger gun laws Sunday, in the wake of massacres in Uvalde, Buffalo and elsewhere. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 69 documented mass shootings in the U.S. over the past month, and 11 this weekend alone.
"We are often asked how in a place like the United States there can be such horrific gun violence," the USMNT wrote. "We are also asked why the representatives of the people do nothing even though most Americans want them to take action. Those of us who play professionally abroad experience none of these things in our daily lives, yet we return home to a place where mass shootings are frighteningly common and the victims are often defenseless children.
"Those who have lost their lives to senseless gun violence — and their families and friends that are left grieving — are very much in our thoughts and prayers. But like the all-too-often moments of silence that we use at our matches to honor the victims, our thoughts and prayers won’t solve this problem," the letter continues. "Beyond the death and crippling injuries, the gun violence causes so much more damage to the mental health of children, their parents, teachers, and all Americans who worry whether they or someone they love will be among the next victims of a mass shooting.
"Our ability to affect change is limited, but yours is not. You could vote this week to address gun violence in America, and in fact, you will be given that opportunity. In the coming days, the U.S. House of Representatives is voting on several bills that would address this serious issue. Please vote yes on all the bills being considered."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Thursday that her house of Congress will vote on sweeping gun-control legislation this week. The Democrat-controlled House is expected to pass those bills, but Senate Republicans are expected to block them.
"To members of the United States Senate," the USMNT letter continued, "a small group of your colleagues from both parties are working to craft a legislative proposal that will need the support of 60 out of 100 Senators to pass. Please stand up and say you will vote yes on gun legislation, so that a bill can go to the Senate floor, and the House and Senate can then work together to finalize legislation that does more than the bare minimum and will bring about a meaningful reduction in gun violence."
The players acknowledged that "there are those who say athletes shouldn’t get involved in issues that are deemed political," but they then continued: "Certainly, we can all agree that the safety of the children in our country is a sacred responsibility that is shared by all of us. We believe it would be irresponsible not to use our platform to raise awareness and call for change. Our activism is borne out of necessity — we are talking about this issue because many of you refuse to take action.
"Families in Uvalde, Texas, are in the process of burying 19 children and 2 teachers. Please stop choosing campaign contributions over kids’ lives. Stop being steered by some misguided notion that voting for gun reform legislation — or even refusing to talk about it in the first place — will get you voted out of office. Instead, do what is necessary to prevent this from happening again."
The USMNT released the letter 90 minutes before its friendly against Uruguay in Kansas City. Players wore orange armbands during the match to raise awareness for the fight against gun violence, amplifying the message of the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety.
"Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in our little world and what we're doing, and you forget about what happened in the outside world," head coach Gregg Berhalter said postgame. "But this group certainly didn't do that."
They refused to, in part because, having lived abroad, many of them know a very different reality. There are regularly more than four times as many firearm-related deaths per capita in the U.S. than in any major European country. "It's really weird explaining to [teammates]," Cannon told reporters earlier this week, "that this is the life that we live."
Berhalter added after the match: "Everyone's just tired of it." And "it's not only about the mass shootings," he added. "It's just about the needless gun violence and the kids and the people that are dying everyday."
Cannon acknowledged that the push for stricter gun legislation has been ongoing for years, without much impact. But "I think this is the biggest call there is for change," he said of the renewed push after the shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
"Because this has been" — he paused for a pained exhale — "such a hard thing to deal with, and I can't imagine the families and the kids that obviously have suffered from this tragedy."