Before kicking off the second MLS game in the “MLS is Back” tournament, the Philadelphia Union paid tribute to the Black American victims of police brutality.
Prior to the jersey reveal, the Union posed for their pregame picture sporting Black Lives Matter warm-up T-shirts. The team then took the shirts off, turned around, and revealed the backs of their jerseys. But it seems like the only people who knew about the demonstration was the team itself, who reportedly hid their plan from the MLS and the press until moments before the match.
The ESPN broadcast team in Bristol, Connecticut, was surprised to see new names on the backs of Union players.
“This is interesting, Jon. Those are not the names of those players,” said analyst Taylor Twellman. “I’m going to do a little digging here, but that looks like the names of Black people that have died from police inequality.” Twellman called the move “extremely powerful.”
Some of the names on the back of Union jerseys read “Rice,” “McDonald,” “Brown,” “Taylor,” “Floyd,” “Sterling,” “Bland,” and many more. All Union players participated in the tribute.
Below their numbers, each Union player wrote “one name, too many” in his native language.
Play-by-play man Jon Champion was also stunned by the team’s statement.
“The Philadelphia message was kept back,” he said. “The MLS were unaware. This will certainly come as a surprise to them.”
Union players also created a custom armband for team captain Alejandro Bedoya, which he wore during the game.
The athlete activism exhibited today follows a string of statements made by other players and leagues. Weeks ago, the NWSL became the first american team sports league to return amidst the pandemic. Players took a knee in the first game back to protest racism and police brutality in America.
The NBA, too, will pay tribute to social justice causes in some way when (if) teams return to play. But players will not wear the names of deceased people on the back of their jerseys.
In today’s MLS morning matchup, the Philadelphia Union beat NYCFC 1-0. Alejandro Bedoya scored the lone goal in the second half and was named man of the match.