Change is coming and Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow is helping lead the way.
The 32-year-old fullback from Cleveland is executive director of the newly formed Black Players Coalition of MLS, aimed at addressing racial inequality in the league and positively affecting Black communities across Canada and the United States.
The coalition was announced Friday on Juneteenth, a day celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S.
“It’s been madness – in a beautiful way,” Morrow said of the round-the-clock efforts to form the group on short notice.
As it has been around the globe, the decision to band together was triggered by the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“Right after the death of George Floyd, there were a lot of conversations going on between the Black players in the pool of Major League Soccer. But they were fragmented,” Morrow said.
“Although we were all thinking the same thing, we were having the conversations with our own groups. So we were able to start a chat that really got a group of guys together from different teams and from there we branched out to having 70 Black players on a Zoom call a week after the death of George Floyd.
“The Zoom call was just amazing. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. There was a lot of anger there, pain, amidst everything that was going on with the pandemic and the return-to-play negotiations and, of course, what happened to George Floyd. So guys were expressing that, but also expressing love for each other and support for each other.
“Just a lot of intense, passionate speeches happened in that call. And that’s really when we decided we needed an organization. And from there it’s just been a roller-coaster ride trying to get this thing together just to be announced today. But the way we’re looking at is it’s just the starting line and we still have all of the work ahead of us.”
The coalition board members are Ray Gaddis (Philadelphia Union), CJ Sapong (Chicago Fire), Quincy Amarikwa (formerly D.C. United), Kendall Waston (FC Cincinnati), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Earl Edwards Jr. (D.C. United), Jalil Anibaba (Nashville SC), Kei Kamara (Colorado Rapids) and Ike Opara (Minnesota United).
“There will be change,” tweeted Morrow and the board members.
“It’s important that we use our platforms as professional athletes,” Morrow said in an interview. “We want to lead the change, specifically in Major League Soccer, because we don’t see the Black representation that we want to see at the coaching level or at the high executive levels. We don’t see that in Major League Soccer and we don’t see that in the MLS Players Association.
“So we want to see more of us and we have initiatives aimed at getting that done. We’ve already brought that to the league and so we’re in conversations with them about how we can make that happen together.”
The coalition also wants to make a difference outside the league through targeted charitable donations and helping build up local Black communities on both sides of the border.
The fact that it took the death of Floyd to spur action leaves Morrow somewhat conflicted.
“I lament that a little bit,” he said. “Because obviously this wasn’t the first time that this happened. Not in the United States or anywhere in the world. We’d be blind to say that racism doesn’t exist everywhere in the world.
“And so we as Major League Soccer players can stand up to that because we have soccer players from all over the world that represent their countries. And so these are the types of things that we want to stand up for. And unfortunately we came about [after] the death of George Floyd, another Black man dead at the hands of a white police officer in the United States. And it’s something that we should have long before that.”
Morrow, a U.S. international whose father was a police officer, is in his seventh season in Toronto after beginning his pro career with four seasons in San Jose. One of the first names on the TFC team sheet, the Notre Dame graduate was an MLS all-star in 2012.
While the coalition says it is a stand-alone organization, it will partner with the MLS Players Association and MLS on racial issues, other initiatives and charitable donations. So far it says it has secured US$75,000 in charitable donations by the MLSPA on its behalf.
Morrow said the coalition will make voter registration a priority with November elections looming in the U.S.
He expects more talks among players as the entire league moves to Florida for next month’s MLS is Back Tournament.
MLS issued a statement in support of the coalition, saying it “proudly recognizes and supports” the group and called its members “influential change leaders.”
The MLSPA said it was “proud to support and stand with” the coalition.
“We are clear, however, that the change that is needed in our sport cannot come from the BPC alone,” the association said in a statement. “Real change must come from within each one of us, and each of our organizations.
“For the MLS Players Association, this means listening, asking questions and internal reflection. It means re-examining our mission, our organization and our structure.”