Former soccer star Maurice Edu speaks on race and representation as MLS returns amid nation’s reckoning

Former U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder and FOX Soccer Analyst Maurice Edu sat down with FOX TV Stations to talk about the return of Major League Soccer and the legacy of American sports going forward as calls for racial equality echo throughout the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Speaking on the moments leading up to the July 8 match between Orlando City and Inter Miami where nearly 200 players took the field for an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence to protest racial injustice before the game, Edu said that while everyone is excited to welcome back sports in the pandemic era, the moment of silence represented an issue that simply cannot be ignored.

“I thought it was incredibly powerful,” said Edu. “Obviously we’re all excited to have sports being back but we can’t ignore such a big issue that so many players within the MLS deal with on a regular basis.”

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Leading up to the match that ended with Orlando’s 2-1 victory over Miami, players wore black T-shirts, black gloves and black face masks emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.” The shirts had varying slogans that included “Black And Proud,” “Silence Is Violence” and “Black All The Time.”

The players walked toward midfield, raised their right arms one at a time and held the pose for so long that some could be seen stretching fatigued muscles afterward.

It was a poignant moment that put two of the nation’s most prominent changes over the last four months — masks and movements — at the forefront of the sport’s return.

The group setting the tone was formerly called the Black Players Coalition of MLS but changed its name this week to Black Players for Change. Originally announced on Juneteenth, the group started in the wake of Floyd’s death with the hope of combating systemic racism both in soccer and the players’ communities. The league and the players’ union endorsed the organization.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after a White Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Edu called the emergence of the group a pipeline for success for not only Black youth in America, but the communities in general that many MLS teams are in.

“A lot of these stadiums are built in inner-cities and there’s a chance to really connect and help improve and encourage some of these younger player to get involved in the sport,” Edu said.

More importantly, Edu said groups like Black Players for Change can help better enrich the members of individual communities as a whole by presenting opportunities that may not have existed before.

“I think when some young Black kid see faces that they recognize it’s a little bit more impactful, the message, as well as how that message is delivered to them,” added Edu.

Edu feels that the lack of representation within the league and the world of American sports in general has been an issue many have turned a blind eye to for too long.

Citing the recent protests, he added that the ability to be more outspoken has allowed people to open their eyes to things they may have been “too naive to” in the past as more and more come to realize a reality that many, including Edu himself, have experienced for too long on a day-to-day basis.

“Action, action is the biggest thing,” Edu said. If the message of a movement by an organization such as the Black Players Coalition is to truly succeed, Edu said there needs to be continuous action for the foreseeable future, not just because it is a current talking point.

Edu’s call for representation comes as major figures in the the professional sports world are beginning to open their ears to difficult conversations that many have been trying to spark since long before Floyd’s death.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to take a stand against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016, he was mostly alone.

Politicians, team owners and fellow players criticized him, fans burned his jersey, and he was booed even at home. Four years later, his protest is widely viewed as prescient. Global opinion has shifted so much that more people are now vilifying those who attack Kaepernick or misrepresent his stance.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell weighed in on the recent anti-racism protests that have erupted across the country, apologizing for not listening to NFL players who had previously spoken out against racial injustice in the country. “We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People,” said Goodell in a post on Twitter last month encouraging all NFL players to “speak out and peacefully protest.”

RELATED: ‘We were wrong for not listening’: Roger Goodell encourages NFL players to ‘peacefully protest’

But the protests have only just begun to scratch the surface of a long and painful legacy of racism that has existed in American sports.

Last month, when former Major League All-star Torii Hunter said he’d been called the N-word “a hundred times” at Boston’s storied Fenway Park, the Red Sox were quick to back him up with a promise to fight racism.

“Torii Hunter’s experience is real,” the team said in a June 10 Twitter post, adding that there were at least seven incidents as recently as last year where fans used racial slurs. The team promised to do a better job dealing with racism: “As we identify how we can do better, please know we are listening.”

But those words rang hollow for more than a dozen Black men who have spent the last several years trying to get the Red Sox to listen to their claims that they were sexually abused by a former Red Sox clubhouse manager who died in 2005.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that he believes the name of Washington’s professional football team “probably should be changed," though he supported the team's name when he ran for governor in 2014.

Hogan, a moderate Republican and a critic of President Donald Trump, was asked on NBC’s “Today” show whether he thought the NFL team should change its name.

“I think the time is probably right," Hogan said. "I’m glad that they’re having that discussion. I believe the name will be changed.”

As American sports leagues make their return from coronavirus shutdowns in the midst of a racial reckoning within the country, the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball are all sure to follow in the footsteps of MLS.

The NFL will play “Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the Black national anthem, before each game during Week 1, a person familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press. It will be played first when the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans to kick off the NFL regular season on Sept. 10.

Some NBA and collegiate teams played the song at games during Black History Month years ago, thanks to Eugene Williams. The retired Howard University professor lobbied for teams to play the song in February.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.