NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nashville SC defender Jalil Anibaba had every right to react however he wanted to, following the news of George Floyd’s killing.
He, like many, had seen this play out before and knew the ending. Tragedy. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Given the nature of the act and the uncomfortable, yet unavoidable details, an strong reaction is the only reaction.
Anibaba reached out to friends who also understood. But this time, texts and direct messages lead to ideas and inspiration. His outlet turned into an organization. His reaction turned into action.
“It started through group chats and text messages and common sentiments around a very difficult aspect of being a minority,” said Anibaba. “There are a lot of things that come with that, that you inevitably have to bounce your ideas and your sentiments and your emotions off of other people that you trust just to keep yourself level.”
He, Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow, Minnesota United’s Ike Opara, Philadelphia Union defender Ray Gaddis, and “a whole bunch” of guys across the league started the conversation.
“Just talking about the fact that we wanted to do something. We weren’t exactly sure what would have the biggest impact and elevate our voices in a way that we felt that we wanted them to be elevated.”
The proverbial megaphone was creating Black Players for Change.
“I think normalizing the idea of just talking about what other people are going through. It wasn’t really commonplace in the league really to talk about some of the issues that are obviously experienced by a large group within our league. But it doesn’t just stop at issues that affect the Black community. I think what we’ve created will open up avenues to have conversations for any group of people that are going through hard times moving forward. To be able to just affect the overall culture of the league and the soccer landscape within our country in a way that just creates more room for everyone is very, very important.”
Conversation and action are ignited by people with voices. Loud ones. Important ones.
“I think there’s an inherent platform that comes with playing a sport for a living or playing at a high level that makes us more socially responsible to make sure that we’re doing our part. That’s all that we saw this as is stepping up and responding to a social call to action,” said Anibaba.
He may have helped start the MLS’s mission, but over the summer, athletes across all sports spoke out demanding change. The BPC currently has partnerships with the Players Coalition in the NFL, players in the NBA, and athletes across Europe.
“I think it’s very humbling and refreshing to see athletes all over the world making very bold and strong and honorable statements about simple issues about humanity.”
Before athletes, they’re humans. Don’t forget that.
“These are people that are playing games and these are people that are traveling all over the country or the world to, more ways than not, entertain. So I think when people remove themselves from that and understand that obviously we love what we do and we love playing the sport, but before all of that we’re human beings that care deeply about obviously what we’re experiencing, but what the people around us are experiencing,” he said. “Actually standing by people when they’re in need really does make a difference whether people understand it in the moment or not.”
Anibaba may not have understood the scope of what he was doing in the moment, but he never questioned it.
“Why did I take this on personally? Never thought twice about it. I think kind of the name of the game, I guess you could say, no pun intended, of this year is basically stepping up at difficult times.”
He stepped up and continues to step up as the fight for racial justice is more than a moment, it’s a movement.
“For us, these issues, they don’t fade away and we set things up with very deliberate plans to be strategic about what were doing. Moving forward it’s now time for us to really get into the grass-roots level and to affect our local communities and to get in touch with the youth and the communities that we live, in the communities where we’re from. Not just let it be a conversation that resides in the soccer world.”
Major League Soccer recognized its importance and awarded the BPC with the 2020 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year honor. An award that typically goes to a single person instead went to a group of 170 players, coaches, and staff in the MLS.
“Strength in numbers is always our backbone and our shield against all swords, so we very much understood that when we were formulating ideas and strategies. To see that come to fruition is a completely different thing, and to be recognized as an entire organization, it’s obviously unprecedented, but it very much reflects what our intentions were in terms of creating this whole thing.”