|Charlotte Independence trio on the cutting edge of soccer activism|
|USL Black Player Alliance demands equity|
|Published Monday, January 4, 2021 11:00 am|
|PHOTO | CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE|
|Charlotte Independence athletes Aaron Maund (from left), Hugh Roberts and Brandon Miller are founding members of the USL Black Players Alliance, where players are empowered to create change on and off the pitch.|
The USL Black Players Alliance emerged in August when a group of professional athletes decided to create a space where Black voices could unite to share their experiences, ideas and vision for a better league for all players. The goal is to empower Black players to create meaningful change in their communities, while also demanding that the league and its clubs create more diverse environments.
Athletes emerged as activists in 2020. Charlotte Independence defender Hugh Roberts posted a video in May honoring Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot and killed while out for a run in Georgia. The league published “Justice” on June 1, in which Roberts proclaimed Black lives matter in the wake of George Floyd’s death that sparked civil unrest across the nation.
Roberts, who later learned he and Floyd are distant cousins, used his podcast BackYardFooty to bring together Black players and coaches to discuss their experiences in the game. From there, the USLBPA was born, with an executive committee elected by its 100 members. It consists of Independence goalkeeper Brandon Miller, Roberts and Indy Eleven midfielder Matthew Watson.
“It really started on one of Hugh’s podcasts, on BackYardFooty,” Miller said. “He brought together a number of professional Black soccer players from MLS, USL and [who play] internationally. We all hoped on a call and vented and shared our experiences in the game of soccer and outside, just in the world. I think it was a necessary time to do that. I know, myself, I had mixed feelings about everything that was going on. It’s one of those things where you think you’re alone, and then you hop on a call like that, and everyone is sharing the same experiences.”
They realized they were all going through similar experiences together, and did not need to be alone while going through it. One call turned into two, which turned into reaching out to more players in the league. When Black Players for Change emerged in the MLS, Miller and Roberts knew they had to do something for USL.
Players like Miller, Roberts and fellow Independence teammate Aaron Maund, USLPA’s director of communications, are active in smaller pockets. All three worked to raise awareness about housing insecurity through varying initiatives. The goal is to provide players with additional resources to create a larger impact on their community.
Miller is heading into his 10th season as a professional, but not until 2020 did the creation of something like the USLBPA come to the forefront.
“The league was ready and willing to hear from us, especially in the moment that we are in, in the United States with social justice,” Miller said. “You see a lot of the issues that are going on around the country. We are not impervious to those. Just because we play soccer doesn’t mean we don’t experience similar things that many of our other American compatriots experience.”
The league announced in October it would establish a mandatory space to address social justice in sports, through a partnership with The Institute for Sport and Social Justice to kick off the initiative. The Institute will oversee league-wide training and education for players and staff, and will collaborate with the USL Players Association and the Championship and League One Board of Governors to implement tougher sanctions for players and coaches who have used abusive language.
Heading into the 2021 season, the aim is to continue to raise awareness about why change is needed.
“In moments when there is social unrest, there is civil unrest, it boils up for two-three months, and then it kind of dies off,” Miller said. “It’s cyclical, and we don’t want it to be cyclical anymore. We want to stem the tide of it essentially. We want to make it so that we don’t have to continue to protest. We don’t have to continue to shout to the rooftops about social injustice, racial injustice. We want it to be normalized that there is equity amongst everyone. That starts in our league, and it starts with us as players.”
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