Born in Englewood, New Jersey, Alejandro Bedoya is a 32-year-old star on a Major League Soccer team, the Philadelphia Union. He is also the first pro athlete to speak out forcefully—as well as dramatically—about the massacres that took place over the weekend in El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. During a nationally televised game against DC United, Bedoya scored a goal and then ran to the corner of the field where there was a live microphone and said, “Congress, do something now. End gun violence. Let’s go!” His words were picked up on the Murdoch-owned sports channel that was broadcasting the contest.
One could have predicted that Bedoya was going to make some kind of on-field statement against the horrors that have become a part of daily life in this country. Before the game, Bedoya tweeted, “Seeing more thoughts and prayers bullshit. Words without actions are just worthless. America, it seems, is becoming a dystopian society. Do something!!! Enough!!!”
After the contest, a 5-1 win for Philadelphia, Bedoya said to reporters, “I’m not going to sit idly and wait for things to happen 50 years from now—I want change now. [This is] the only civilized nation where this kind of gun violence happens. One thing I’ll say is, more guns are not the freaking answer, so let’s see. Politicians are politicians, they’re backed by lobbyists and corporations, so there’s things [that] need to be done to change the way this government is being run.”
It speaks to our times—to the helplessness and desperation people feel in the wake of this kind of carnage—that Bedoya received support from his coach, Jim Curtin. Not the grudging “He has the right to his opinion” support that so many coaches have uttered in this new age of the political athlete, but actual political support.
“[After] 250 shootings this year—I’m on his side,” Curtin said. “It’s outrageous. Things need to change in this country, for sure, and I’ll support anyone who speaks their mind and is intelligent and informed on it, every time. That’s what Alejandro is. He’s passionate, he cares, and again, it’s a real issue in our country now that needs change…. A lot of people will tell me now, and will tell [Bedoya], to shut up and stick to sports, and all the stupid lines that come up. But it’s crazy in our country right now, and I think it needs to change, as well.”
Then there is the Major League Soccer Player’s Association, the union for MLS players. Again, the hesitant support we unfortunately have seen from some of the players unions in other sports when athletes have gotten political was not present. The MLSPA Executive Director Bob Foose said, “On this tragic weekend, on behalf of all MLS players I want to express my full support for Alex Bedoya’s exercise of free speech. To paraphrase his post-game comments, before our members are soccer players, they are people.”
The only question that remained was what the response is going to be from Major League Soccer itself. Bedoya was unrepentant after the game, saying, “I don’t care. Fine me if they want. You know what? I’ve got to make a stand,” he replied. “I’m a human being before I’m an athlete.… We’re all affected by this type of stuff.”
Yet the breaking news today—in a sharp departure from other sports leagues—is that MLS will not be fining or suspending Bedoya. In a forceful statement, the league said, “The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue.”
The response by Bedoya, his coach, the union, and now the league signals something significant. It is certainly not that MLS is somehow more progressive than other leagues. Their collective support is best understood as a human response to the level of crisis this country now faces, with armed white supremacists and a president using social media to give them a wink and a thumbs-up. The house is on fire. The minimal human response is recognition that it’s burning.