Black Players for Change, a group formed by Major League Soccer players to confront racial injustice, has earned the league’s Humanitarian of the Year award.
The group, which came together following the death of George Floyd, set out to create positive change within MLS and in local communities. Among its accomplishments was an extensive get-out-the-vote effort and the construction of a mini-pitch for underserved youth in New Jersey.
Black Players for Change involves 170 players and league staff.
“We’ve had some successes, we’re still fighting some battles, and we’ll continue to fight those battles,” said Toronto defender Justin Morrow, the group’s founder. “We’re making sure that we will not go away and this organization will be here for future generations.”
Black Players for Change has three goals: to give black players a voice in the league; to encourage black representation in the players’ association and higher levels of MLS; and to help local communities.
Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse, Chicago’s CJ Sapong, Nashville’s Jalil Anibaba and Philadelphia’s Ray Gaddis are among the players involved. In recognition of the group’s efforts, MLS WORKS will donate $5,000 to the organization.
In his State of the League address Tuesday, Commissioner Don Garber recalled how the group came together at the start of the MLS is Back tournament. Many players stood silent for several minutes, some with fists raised, reflecting the span of time that a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“That, I think, was one of the special moments in the history of our league. It was incredibly moving for all of us,” Garber said. “Earlier today we announced that the Black Players for Change were the recipients of the Humanitarians of the Year award. It’s a really well-deserved recognition for their collective efforts to bring awareness to racial and social justice issues, both in our league and our sport and throughout our society.”
The group partnered with the LeBron James-led non-profit More Than A Vote to encourage communities of colour to vote, while also encouraging fellow players to register. That effort was wildly successful, with 95% per cent registration among the league’s eligible players.
Black Players for Change also dedicated it’s first mini-pitch in Newark. In a partnership with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the group plans to install 12 mini-pitches in Black communities across the country to encourage kids to play soccer.
“I think what we all definitely feel is a sense of confidence, hope and pride in the fact that we’ve been able to kind of establish a road to a better tomorrow,” Anibaba said. “And that’s not just based on hope, it’s based on real things. That’s based on real relationships that we’ve been able to forge with the league, with the commissioner, with obviously ourselves as the BPC, the board, the Black player pool and the entire player pool.”
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press