Neither Jalil Anibaba nor Dax McCarty wanted to speak about the game following Nashville’s 3-1 loss in Orlando last night.
“I have no thoughts about the soccer game,” said McCarty to start their post-match availability. “Seeing the news of everything that had happened, soccer takes a backseat.”
Nashville’s match was the lone MLS match that took place Wednesday night, as players around the league decided not to play the other five scheduled matches in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. This came shortly after the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks voted to boycott their playoff game, resulting in the league postponing all other games.
Nashville and Orlando’s decision to play the match drew the ire of players and pundits alike, although according to McCarty, ” It’s not as cut and dry as maybe some people think it is.”
The timeline was just a little too crunched and it was a little too soon for us to effectively communicate with other teams in the league about what was going to happen,” he explained. “I got to the locker room, I put my phone down, I was focused on the game, figuring out what we’re going to do to beat Orlando. You hear rumors, you hear whispers, but ultimately that’s what they are. We had no firm conversations on what was going to happen before our game or with the other games.”
Nashville players heard whispers of the protests before the game, but hadn’t heard any concrete news by the time they were required to turn their phones off for the match. According to McCarty and Anibaba, as well as head coach Gary Smith, the first news they had of the protests came when they returned to the locker room after the final whistle.
Both McCarty and Anibaba said they were thankful for how the MLS Players’ Association and the Black Players for Change lead the protests, with McCarty adding, “I wish we could have been a part of it.”
When asked about the opportunity to use their platforms for change, Anibaba was blunt.
“I would say that its past the point of an opportunity because we are here in it right now,” he said. “As far as what is actually going on in this country we are doing what we can, we are doing our part. We’ve mobilized, we’ve organized. It’s not just black players that are speaking on this, like I said. We have my brother [pointing to McCarty] literally next to me talking on this as well, this is not just any longer a black issue. Yes, our people are getting killed, yes we are the ones who start the charge, but this is an American, human issue and we’ve shown that in our league.”
Nashville is currently scheduled to play their first home match since February on Sunday, welcoming Inter Miami to Nissan Stadium. In light of Wednesday’s protests and the uncertainty surrounding the NBA schedule, that game may not happen.
“At this point in time, it is just a matter of the players being unified. We will continue to discuss we will continue to talk about what makes the most sense. Obviously, kneeling isn’t enough,” said Anibaba. “I don’t think that we have ever had two players that have served this league for over a decade, one black, one white, sitting next to each other on these issues. I don’t think that has ever happened before. At this point in time it’s about unity and we’ll continue to show that through our conversations and technicality, but also our actions.”
“As far as I am concerned all that we can do is listen, learn and try to use our platform to effect change in a meaningful positive way,” said McCarty. ““For me sports has to take a back seat right now. I think that the NBA has proven that they are at the forefront of this change. I think the MLS has proven that they are at the forefront of trying to effect positive change in communities. It’s not going to happen overnight, you can’t just snap your fingers and have everything magically be better. So, we are at the precipice at a time in our country where you want to be on the right side of history. You want to be on the side of history that says I was a meaningful part of changing things for the better, of bringing awareness to the issues of social injustice and making sure that equality is not just something we talk about but is something we put into action.”
“I don’t know what more we are going to have to do,” concluded Anibaba, “but our players have shown that we are willing to do what it takes, we are willing to organize ourselves, we are willing to step out in the uncomfortable moments and kneel and obviously not play games. At this point in time I really don’t know, but something has to change.”