Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley was the lone exception as 21 other starters took a knee to protest police brutality and systemic racism as the Canadian national anthem played before Friday’s MLS match between the Reds and Montreal Impact — the first MLS game to be played since 10 teams refused to take the field Wednesday in response to Jacob Blake being shot by Wisconsin cops earlier in the week.
Following Friday’s contest in the Canadian province of Quebec, the longtime United States men’s national team midfielder explained why he stood as his teammates and opponents kneeled.
“It’s obviously something that I’ve thought a lot about,” Bradley, who knelt during a moment of silence before kickoff a few minutes later, said after the Reds won 1-0 on Alejandro Pozuelo's second-half penalty kick. “I could talk about myself and give you some of my thought process, but it’s not about me. Thirty seconds talking about myself is 30 seconds we should be talking about the real issues.
“The conversation and the rhetoric that has been created around the decision for people to peacefully protest by kneeling, it’s designed by the people that don’t want change, to take away from the real conversation that we all need to be having every single day,” continued Bradley, who has spoken on social issues often throughout his 16-year professional career that has included stops in the top leagues in England, Germany and Italy.
“That’s what they want. They want this divisive, hateful rhetoric, conversation where there is no nuance, there is no middle ground. So for me, I will always be a strong voice for racial equality and I will continue to try to do everything I can to use the platform that I have to talk about things I believe are important. When you look at out society right now, it’s heartbreaking to see the systemic racism that still exists after hundreds of years. The social injustice. The police brutality. It all has to end.”
After George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed while in police custody in Minnesota in May, sparking outrage across the globe, Bradley said he was “horrified, angry, disgusted and embarrassed we live in a world where Black men, women, children fear for their lives daily.” The son of former USMNT coach and current LAFC boss Bob Bradley has also slammed U.S. president Donald Trump.
Justin Morrow, Bradley’s longtime TFC teammate and the executive director of the MLS Black Players for chance coalition, backed the decision of Bradley and head coach Greg Vanney, who also stood as the anthem played. Vanney said that his Canadian assistant coach Jason Bent, who is Black, wanted to stand for his country’s anthem and that he decided to stand alongside Bent.
“First and foremost, I completely support them,” Morrow said of fellow Americans Bradley and Vanney. “There’s no other two people that have been in my corner more than those two guys.
“I’ve said from the very beginning that standing or kneeling for the national anthem is acceptable, because the conversation at the end of the day gets turned sideways,” Morrow added. “These guys show their support in so many different ways to us.”
Bradley, Morrow and Vanney spoke to reporters via Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic, which also limited attendance at Friday’s match to just 250 spectators inside 21,000-seat State Saputo.
“I spent that moment during the national anthem thinking of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake,” Bradley said, reeling off the now-household names of victims of police and/or racial violence. “Thinking of them, thinking of their families. I want justice for them, and I want to live in a world and a society where the hateful, hurtful things that have been going on for hundreds of years come to an end.
“I wholeheartedly support Black Lives Matter,” Bradley said. “I have seen firsthand the emotion and just how difficult some of these days have been for our Black players.
“The way that they have led us, and the way that they have shown such courage and leadership in all of this, it’s been incredible to see.”