(Reuters) - Players raised gloved right fists and took a knee before Major League Soccer’s first match in four months on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ social justice movement.
Some players wore t-shirts over their jerseys with the words “Black and Proud” and “Silence is Violence” before the match, and the Orlando City and Inter Miami starting line-ups took a knee just before the ‘MLS is Back’ tournament kicked off.
The demonstration lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man whose death in late May sparked nationwide protests.
Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow, executive director of the Black Players for Change organization, said MLS players wanted to add their voices to the movement.
“This is a chance for us to take our place with them, stand up against racial inequality, fight that battle and make sure our voices in Major League Soccer are heard,” he said at halftime.
“What you saw tonight was a special moment that was driven by the players, and Major League Soccer collaborated with us to make that happen.”
The kneeling protest was popularized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 while the raised fists mirrors the protest against racial inequality by Americans John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
Kaepernick’s protest came during the playing of the national anthem, which will not be played during the tournament because the games are being staged in empty stadiums, a measure to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Wednesday’s MLS match, held inside a bio-secure “bubble” at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex, marked the first North American professional men’s league to return to action since the pandemic upended the sports calendar in mid-March.
Reporting by Rory Carroll Editing by Gerry Doyle/Peter Rutherford