“Am I next?”
As a young Black man in America, Mark McKenzie said these words both inspire and haunt him. And they were on his mind when he and the rest of the Union team replaced their own last names with the names of victims of police brutality for their match against NYCFC on Thursday.
The Union homegrown defender, an outspoken advocate against racism and for equal justice, wore the name of a Tamir Rice, a 12-year old for whom that question that follows McKenzie around had already been brutally answered.
“It was something that emotionally touched me with his story,” McKenzie told reporters late Thursday. “I chose Tamir because he was a young black man similar to an Emmett Till and I felt that it was important to make sure that his story was told and to make sure I brought light to his situation.”
Efforts have been made across the sports landscape to highlight the need for equal justice. English Premier League players wore Black Lives Matter on the back of their kits throughout their first round of matches following a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, and at the MLS is Back Tournament opening match Wednesday night, the Black Players For Change – a newly formed coalition of players aiming to give voice to Black players in the league – stood united for eight minutes and 46 seconds in silent solidarity. The Union squad felt compelled to do more, though McKenzie emphasized the goal is for people to educate themselves, not to pressure other clubs or athletes to follow suit.
“I think every team is going to feel differently about how they want to approach the issue and I think everyone is acknowledging it and that’s important but now it’s about making real change and making statements,” McKenzie said. “We commend any action being held by leagues and teams in order to help fight for change in order to bring real, lasting change to the forefront. We as a team and as a collective felt it was something we wanted to do and no other team has to do it but ultimately it was what we felt in our hearts was a powerful statement and a powerful move in order to make it stick. We hope everyone can understand that but ultimately this is a decision made by the group and it’s something that is bigger than each and every one of us.”
When asked if the names would stay on the back of the team’s jerseys going forward, McKenzie said that like they’ve done this whole process, it will be a team decision.
“It’s a decision we’ll make as a team, right now I think it was important to make the statement and make it known that we’re about action and not worried about seeking permission to do it,” McKenzie said. “It was a decision as a group so we’ll come together again and discuss it but the most important thing is that we all come together.”
The Union will face off against Inter Miami CF on Tuesday, July 14th at 10:30 p.m. ET. The match will be shown live on TUDN and Twitter.