Sports are not your distraction

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union / Andrew Zwarych

On July 9, 2020, in the middle of fervent protests of police brutality throughout the country, the Philadelphia Union played their first game of the MLS is Back tournament.

They walked out onto the field wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts, designed by the Union’s own Warren Creavalle.

They took off the shirts prior to the game to reveal the names of Black victims of police brutality on the back of their jerseys, accompanied by the phrase “One name too many” underneath.

The message was clear and obvious; there are things larger than sport, and that these games were not purely for entertainment. The back of the pre-game shirts designed by Creavalle echoed that message, reading, “To be clear, this is not your distraction, it’s not your escape from real life.

Leading up to MLS is Back, Creavalle, along with other black leaders in the locker room, such as Ray Gaddis, held conversations with teammates and coaching staff alike to help educate those less familiar with race issues in America. These conversations resulted in the decision to wear the victims’ names on their jerseys and instilled in the team the unwavering stance that soccer and sports are secondary. 

Months later, that stance must be remembered not by the team but by the fans. As we move forward into September, it’s increasingly easy to see sports as a distraction from a world that spirals more and more into the absurd each day. While it’s easy to be distracted by the increasingly important games happening in the WNBA, NBA, and NHL, we must remain focused on the issues at hand.

In the last two weeks, three individuals have been shot and killed during protests in the wake of the most recent publicized case of racially motivated police brutality, the shooting of Jacob Blake. These events come only three months removed from the Black Lives Matter movement’s re-ignition in late May 2020, after the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the events that sparked the Unions’ initial conversation on race in America. The recent shooting of Jacob Blake serves to remind us that despite mass protests, putting victims’ names on the back of MLS jerseys, and the introduction of police reform bills, real change is still desperately needed in the United States when it comes to our treatment of black individuals. Change that must start by having uncomfortable conversations that can allow us to understand what we must do to fix the crisis of America’s morality. 

As sports fans, we must remember that currently, sports are secondary. That right now, the most important thing is listening to what our athletes, especially our black athletes, have to say. For so long, these athletes have provided us with not only entertainment but emotions that escape straightforward explanations. Simply writing off the Union’s playoff win last year as mere entertainment is a disservice to the emotional commitment that the fans, players, and staff put in to achieve that result. These athletes have gone past being mere entertainment and have become unforgettable members of our Union family. That’s a sentiment that any true sports fan can relate to, Union fan or not. For that reason, we owe them our attention.

So, as the Union’s season continues, I implore you to take the time to listen to what our players and coaches have to say. Don’t just look at the Black Lives Matter shirt worn by Jim Curtin, but think about what it means. Don’t just check your phone, or run to the fridge while players take a knee at kickoff, but take the time to understand why they’re taking a knee. Take the time to think about how you can help, how you can facilitate change, and how you can be a part of the conversation. Think about how for years these athletes have spent years entertaining us and becoming intimate parts of our lives, and how now they’re asking us to listen. Think about the quote on Creavalle’s shirt.

“To be clear, this is not your distraction, it’s not your escape from real life. For some, this is everyday life. This is not politics, it’s not black vs white, it’s human RIGHTS. Silence is violence. In certain cases, silence was suffocation. This is not meant for your comfort, it’s not meant to be a trend. It’s meant for your awareness, understanding, and mobilization. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong. MLS is back, but Black Lives still Matter. They mattered yesterday, they matter today, and they MUST matter tomorrow.”

Here are a few articles worth reading to familiarize yourself with the Union’s stance on Black Lives Matter, and the current state of America’s racial reckoning.

Philadelphia Union veteran Ray Gaddis one of the leaders of Black Players Coalition

 Michel Jreissati

Philadelphia Union wear names on backs of shirts of Black people killed by police violence 

Tom Marshall

Creavalle makes a Statement with Black Lives Matter Design

– Fox Sports

Curtin’s Opening Statement to Media: June 10th, 2020.

– Philadelphia Union


  1. To borrow a phrase that was current five decades ago when I was in college,
    “Right on, brother.”

  2. While admittedly it’s not as much as what many others are doing, one very easy thing I did to show my support (which others can do) was when Mark McKenzie spoke up about the booing in Dallas a few weeks ago when the players took a knee during the anthem, I spoke to my season’s ticket rep and asked her to pass on my support to Mark for the effort he was making.
    I think the players would like to hear from us fans that we support their efforts here.

  3. If the game is not merely entertainment, what do they think it is? It is hard to read anything after such fantasy. Watching the U is not my job, it is something I do because I enjoy it, that is pretty much the definition of entertainment.

    • I think the counterpoint is that average fans see the sport as more than entertainment. I can’t recall the last time a parade was organized around a swell ending to a movie or TV series. Or that people flooded the streets in rage when Crime and Punishment didn’t end the way they thought it should. People clearly invest more emotion in sports than pure entertainment.

      While I don’t think a great athlete is more valuable than the average teacher, paramedic or mail carrier, they do have a bog platform and I think that is the best justification they have for using the privilege of that position to call attention to views they find important. The popular rejoinder for athletes to ‘stick to sports’ doesn’t make sense, particularly when the stakes are so high.

      One can always criticize these actions as virtue signaling — it’s a hard charge to avoid — bit I think most of the athletes are saying and acting in the way they are in good faith. I prefer themto speak their minds. I’d hate for them to pretend nothing is happening.

    • Well you see “the game” is played by people, you know, humans. Some people care about their fellow (wo)man (no matter the skin tone or gender). Some people have gratitude towards those that have provided said entertainment and distractions to daily life for years (also while dulling our senses to their suffering and mistreatment along the way). Some people find it not too hard an ask to listen when these entertainers, and those they are a representation of in society, ask the rest of us to finally listen to how they experience daily life in this country of ours. In a land of free speech, who knew listening would become such a difficult and offensive thing to do.

  4. Yes, they are.

  5. Thank you for this article. I stand in solidarity with the players and hope their courage can be an example for others that are in positions of influence.

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