Bogert: The Union's powerful Black Lives Matter tribute is about action over permission

The following is a story from MLSSoccer.com contributor Tom Bogert with the complete story available via MLSSoccer.com here.

Striding onto the pitch all wearing "Black Lives Matter" shirts was only the beginning of the Philadelphia Union's powerful demonstration in support of the struggle for racial equality as they played their first competitive match in four months.

When members of the Union starting XI began taking those shirts off to enter the pitch, it was slowly revealed there was something different about these jerseys underneath. Instead of names like Bedoya, Monteiro and Aaronson over each player's number, there were other names, names that are tragically all too familiar to the country.

The players' surnames were replaced with those of (Philando) Castille, (Eric) Garner, (Trayvon) Martin and, on the back of Andre Blake's jersey, (George) Floyd. Every player's kit had the name of a member of the Black community who has been the victim of police brutality, costing them their lives. At the bottom of every jersey read the poignant message: One Name Too Many.

It was a powerful symbol, one that caught not only fans by surprise, but the broadcast team and the league. The club chose to use their platform to continue the conversation over racial injustice and to, as so many protests across the globe have cried out: Say Their Names.

"The idea today was action over permission, I hope the league understands that," head coach Jim Curtin told reporters on a video conference after the game. "It was done to show respect, learn, grow and make our country better. I'm really proud of our players."

The idea was a collective one across the squad, led by Philly's Black Player Coalition members like Raymon Gaddis, Mark McKenzie and Warren Creavalle. The group had full buy-in across the team, as well as complete support from the coaching staff.

"We asked our team if they were okay with it," said Gaddis. "Solidarity is key, we wanted to make sure everybody felt comfortable. Not only did we come together ... but the initiative came from great leadership from our coach, our captain, myself, Mark McKenzie and Warren Creavalle saying that action are louder than words. It's to further the conversation, to use our platform to be a voice for the voiceless."

The players chose specifically the name they wanted to represent on the back of their jerseys. McKenzie had Tamir Rice on his back, Creavalle had Elijah McClain. Both players said each story really spoke to them.

“We couldn’t wear the names of every victim lost, but we feel that the wording of One Name Too Many brought that to the forefront," McKenzie said. "The names we wore on the back, that’s One Name Too Many.”

ESPN's Taylor Twellman reported on the broadcast that some of the white players specifically chose the names of victims of police brutality that they were unaware of before being educated during the Black Lives Matters movement over the last few months.

"It was a player's choice, with a coach that supports them in everything they do," Curtin said.

"It showed how much solidarity we have on and off the field," Gaddis added. "We have a great coach who is taking a stand with us, as well as our organization."

After the poignant display, there was 90 minutes of soccer. It felt secondary considering the messaging and weight of real world issues. Even when getting lost in the action for a bit, every time the camera closed in on a Union player, the victims of police brutality had their names front and center on national TV.

"There are certainly things going on in our country right now that are far bigger than soccer," Curtin said. "I'm very proud of my players throughout the last four months in the leadership they've shown in the Black Lives Matter movement and educating other players in our team."


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