“I was blown away by how powerful it was – without even a word being said.”

Richie Laryea talks about the Black Players For Change Initiative on Footy Talks Live.

Footy Talks Live is back – with the first episode of our MLS is Back Tournament coverage. In yesterday’s live show Luke, KJ and Stevie spoke at length with returning guest Richie Laryea about the powerful statement made on the opening night of the competition.

Black players from across the league gathered on the pitch and raised their fists in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – highlighting the brutal murder of George Floyd and lending their support to the Black Lives Matter cause. Describing the experience, Richie had this to say:

‘It was incredible. It was such a powerful statement put across the league, the country, and the world […] There are guys from 24 or the 26 teams in the league. We’re used to competing against each other and not necessarily hating each other but that’s your opponent on the day so these are not my friends normally. But to be together with the entire black pool of players in the MLS was really special. I think it just shows how unified everyone is to fight this fight right now and it was powerful.’ 

‘I was taken away by how powerful it was when nothing was even being said – we were silent with our fists raised. It was such a strong statement and I know the other guys felt the exact same way. For me this is just the beginning of something that’s bigger and better to come from all the black players in this league. And not only the black players, now our other team mates who are also very supportive of it  – our coaches, GMs, owners […] this is just a big step for what this organization wants to do moving forward’ 

Spearheaded by TFC’s Justin Morrow, the Black Players For Change initiative is an organization consisting of over 77 players in the MLS and is committed to tackling racial injustice. Richie took the time to praise the work of his teammate, and argued that this was just the beginning of the important work the initiate can do:

I think it was very well done and hats off obviously to Justin for starting this entire thing, and for bringing guys in along the way […] What he’s done and what he’s created is so special. I don’t know if you guys saw him on TV, but you could see it meant the world to him, and it meant the world to the rest of us. Even getting off that field, we came back to our teams and all the guys were like, ‘wow that was super powerful.’ 

‘I definitely see a lot more coming in the future [from] this whole organization because I think that was a very good first step and a way for us to put our foot in the door or make ourselves known. And now it’s about constantly applying that pressure to show people this is what this group is about and we are here for change, for unity and to be together as one, not only as black players but everyone of all different races, colors, and backgrounds.’

Richie also singled out the powerful statement made by Montreal Impact Head Coach Thierry Henry, who took the knee for the first 8 minutes and 46 second of the tournament’s opening game:

‘Thierry Henry is obviously such a world renown player and everyone knows how classy he is on the field – but for him to do that, that’s something that people are going to remember about him for the rest of his life. They’re not going to remember the goals and appearances and all the trophies – people are going to remember that moment that he was kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That’s such a powerful stance coming from someone like that […] showing that he’s together and in this fight, and he’s putting himself in the shoes of every single black person in this country and around the world. It’s a strong stance for him and I know a lot of guys really really appreciate it.’ 

KJ raised the point that the MLS would also be well served to address a lack of diversity in executive positions, and Richie had this to say about the role of TFC GM Ali Curtis in the great strides that the Black Players For Change initiative is taking:

‘He was doing a lot of things on the club front and he really wanted to nip this in the bud and get it done properly. So again a big thank you to him as well because he’s been super involved. As a team we had several zoom calls with Ali, speaking about ways that we can help educate ourselves and do something for people and the community.’

‘So that was a good stance he also showed. I now feel very fortunate to be playing under one of only two black GMs in the entire league […] Now that he’s there and this whole movement is happening I hope one day soon in the near future we see more than just Ali Curtis as a black GM in this league and there are several others across the board on many different teams.’

‘Things could have been portrayed wrongly for him – speaking his mind because of the position that he holds. But again he’s speaking freely and he’s being respectful, but he’s speaking his mind. So it’s also a very strong stance from him and it shows the courage that he has to fight this fight, and to fight for what’s right.’

Check out the full interview here.

Edwin Tubb