Nedum Onuoha and ZacMath saw what was going on with the NBA Wednesday afternoon and wanted in.
At around 2 p.m., MacMath and Onuoha, both regular starters on Real Salt Lake, had a phone conversation about what how NBA players decided not to play their scheduled playoff games in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake that occurred in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday. The two wanted to figure out what RSL and Major League Soccer players as a whole could do.
After their conversation, they talked to players from LAFC, which was scheduled to play RSL on Wednesday evening in a game that was slated as Salt Lake’s first home match since March. Thousands of fans were expected at Rio Tinto Stadium.
But momentum was already building toward RSL deciding not to play its game.
“Nedum and I both felt very strongly that we did not want to play and that we were going to bring that to our team and make a decision with them as things kind of unfolded,” MacMath said.
Wednesday’s game between RSL and LAFC was postponed along with several others across MLS. A game between Orlando City SC and Nashville SC went ahead as scheduled.
Onuoha said the decision for Orlando and Nashville to play their game could have just come down to timing. It was scheduled to kick off two hours before RSL and LAFC’s, which was scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“It’s not ideal because we could’ve shown a completely united front,” Onuoha said. “But in this same breath, I believe that everybody in standing up there before the game, I think they are with the cause. But they just weren’t able to deliver the message the same way that the rest of the league has managed to do today.”
That message is one that stands against police brutality and the shooting and many times killing of unarmed Black people. Protests erupted around the world after George Floyd was killed by police, and since there have been others, such as Breonna Taylor. Blake was shot multiple times in the back by police, and is currently in the hospital.
The MLS Players Association released a statement expressing support for the boycotted games.
“The MLSPA stands with the decision made by the players — and with those made by players in other leagues — not to play tonight in protest of systemic racial injustice, the latest of which is the horrific shooting of Jacob Blake,” the MLSPA said. “Some things are far more important than sports. Change must happen and athletes are committed to leading the way.”
When asked what he would say to a fan who expressed disappointment at being inconvenienced by RSL and LAFC deciding not to play, Onuoha said the players wanted to play the game. But sports should not be the conversation at this moment, he said.
“Yes, people will miss out on the entertainment,” Onuoha said. “But at the end of the day, it’s entertainment. There are other things going on that are essentially life or death, which should be a bigger part of any conversation that exists today as opposed to maybe just missing out an MLS game or an NBA game as well today.”
Fans who were already in their seats waiting for the game hung around for some time after the announcement that the game had been postponed. Several LAFC players and coaches stayed on the field and chatted, likely because traveling MLS teams are coming into a city and leaving the same day and in most cases aren’t checking in to hotels.
MacMath and Onuoha said there haven’t been conversations about boycotting upcoming games. RSL is scheduled to play Portland on Saturday, and Onuoha said the plan right now is to play that game.
“I know we made a very strong statement tonight and I hope that brings upon more change,” MacMath said. “But this, as we know over the last couple of months, is going to be a movement that lasts for quite a while until there is real change throughout our community.”