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MLS unveils plan to fight racism and increase Black representation

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Major League Soccer has unveiled a series of initiatives designed to fight racism, advocate for social justice, and increase Black representation in the sport.

The new programs are the result of several months of discussions with key stakeholders across the league, including a recent meeting between the MLS Board and representatives of the Black Players For Change coalition.

BPC is an organization of more than 170 Black MLS players that was formed in the summer in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement to give Black players in the league a voice, and assist in making systemic change both inside and outside of MLS.

MLS owners have agreed to donate $1m “to aid in the growth of the organization in the coming years.”

Additionally, the league has created a diversity committee, which will include MLS owners, BPC leadership, club executives, head coaches, academy coaches, former MLS players and members of Pitch Black, a resource group of Black employees from MLS’ league office.

Among the committee’s goals will be to work with the league to develop a strategy toward diversity, inclusion, opportunity, and social justice.

MLS will use league resources to address issues of public concern among marginalized communities, while the soccer upward mobility initiative will provide access, exposure, and clearly-defined career paths to develop talent from underrepresented groups.

As part of the youth and grassroots community initiative, MLS will use league resources to help increase representation among players, coaches and referees.

MLS is also building a supplier diversity program to provide meaningful opportunities and economic inclusion to minority-owned businesses. This will include spending around MLS major events, hiring of agencies, and the selection of vendors, among many areas of league and club business.

Meanwhile, MLS has formed partnerships with 100 Black Men of America and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. In addition to a financial commitment, MLS will collaborate with both organizations to develop long-term programming centered around mentorship, workplace development, social justice, health and wellness, and financial literacy.

“Major League Soccer is committed to utilizing our wide-ranging platforms to create meaningful programs to address racism and social injustice in society and in the sport of soccer,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber.  “Importantly, alongside key stakeholders, including MLS owners, Black Players For Change, former players, Black members of our technical staff and other employees, we have created a series of initiatives to close the representation gap across soccer in the US and Canada.”

The move comes after a major racism controversy this summer involving billionaire businessman Dell Loy Hansen who agreed to sell Utah Soccer Holdings, including MLS team Real Salt Lake, as a result of the incident.

Hansen faced a heavy backlash, as well as more than $3m sponsorship revenue losses, following his open criticism of Real Salt Lake players not playing to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with those players joining a prominent athlete movement covering much of the US sports industry.

He subsequently took a leave of absence from Utah Soccer Holdings, having been put under investigation by both MLS and the National Women’s Soccer League for alleged racist comments and a pattern of alleged racist behavior over a period of years.

MLS’ latest efforts also somewhat resemble the creation earlier this year of the NBA Foundation, which has been seeded with $300m in committed funding and is designed to encourage economic empowerment and growth for the Black community.

Meanwhile, former FC Dallas defender Reggie Cannon recently claimed the club asked him to apologize for critical comments he made about fans who booed the team when players took a knee during the national anthem earlier this summer.

Cannon received racist comments and death threats after describing the incident, which preceded a game against Nashville SC, as “disgusting.” He has since moved to Portuguese club Boavista.