Hours after Major League Soccer officially announced plans to finalize the 2020 season with a knock-out style tournament in Orlando, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin opened his media availability session with an impactful 4 minute and 45-second statement.
Of those 285 seconds, only 35 were spent talking about next month’s soccer.
Curtin, a lifelong Philadelphia area resident, decided to use the relatively small public platform he has to vocalize his own concerns with society, systemic racism in America and abroad, and what small actions we can all take to improve our world.
Across MLS fandom, news of the World Cup-style tournament with games set to start as early as 9 AM during the opening group stages was a welcome positive, maybe even a minor distraction from our current world. But Curtin never seemed interested in hiding behind his job title: Head Soccer Coach, and felt compelled to speak out instead of ‘sticking to sports.’
And for doing so, Philly should be proud. Immediately, Curtin addressed the boldest of issues straight on.
“You have the buildup of 400 years of oppression for black people, systemic racism in our country has kind of led to the culmination in the brutal murder of George Floyd. We live in a country in the United States that is racist. We live in a world that is racist. And if you zoom out and you look at the game of soccer that we play, we play a game where racism is as prevalent as in any other sport,” said Curtin to open the video call.
Curtin then cited recent racial abuse incidents that occurred just this year involving “horrible racist chants, bananas thrown on the field at players,” and even more profoundly maddening “minimal to almost no punishment or charge,” said Curtin.
But Curtin’s statement can almost read as a call to action. A plea to fellow peers, fans, players both current and former, and to us all really.
And once more, Philly should be proud.
“We’ve reached a point now where there’s been the start of a lot of action,” said Curtin. “I feel almost not worthy to speak on action, but I do feel I have a platform and I do think that I can at least speak to some simple things we can all look to.”
Those simple things all mainly start with one simple task: listening.
“A conversation by CJ Sapong and Kei Kamara could be a start for an action to improve yourself or create more awareness around the issues… just listening to great human beings speak on the topic of race and inequality,” said Curtin.
Another action could be donating available funds to advocacy groups or campaigns focused on social justice, equality, police reform, etc.
One advocacy group Curtin noted was Campaign Zero, even citing a quote from its co-founder and civil rights activist, educator, and author DeRay McKesson: “What are you willing to risk to change history?”
Yesterday, Curtin decided to not ‘stick to sports’ and instead perhaps put himself in a bit of risk to push for change. And by doing so, he can hope to spread awareness, knowledge, and resources for others to listen and learn.
We’re all very familiar with the whole ‘stick to sports’ rhetoric, which ultimately aims to discredit any athlete or coach when they chose to speak on inequality or race. It’s an awful tired routine. And it’s incredibly divisive.
Yet Curtin must have made a clear decision in his mind to push all that aside and instead speak from his heart. And it’s something he’s been doing since he became the head coach of the club six years ago. It’s something he’s become known for. It’s something Philly should be proud to have in their city.
“I believe that black people their entire lives over the last 400 years have been willing to risk – and they’ll continue to risk everything – but I think it’s time now for leadership in our country and government, and white people, in general, have to be willing to risk more,” said Curtin. “Every person’s level of risk is going to be different… but it is a time for all of us to come together, to help out, to speak up, to listen, to get to know each other on a closer lever and work to improve things.”
By ‘speaking out’ and choosing to push for greater self-awareness and self-education, Curtin displayed a strong message of solidarity with his current and former players – many of whom have been “actively engaged in conversations and protests,” said Curtin.
The previously mentioned Sapong (former player) has been very active in trying to share knowledge and his personal experiences, as has Ray Gaddis with an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt earlier this week at training, Mark McKenzie with his own powerful and well-spoken thoughts at just 21-years old, and Fafa Picault (former player) sharing his own daily struggles with racism as well as abuse overseas.
Curtin made great use of that platform and all signs point to him continuing to do so as long as he’s here in Philly, and we should be proud.
Just as Curtin left reporters and fans with a question/quote he found relevant and worth exploring, I’ll do the same on behalf of PhillySportsNetwork.com:
“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports