NEW YORK(June 17, 2021) – Major League Soccer today announced plans to recognize Juneteenth – the effective end of slavery in the United States – with a series of initiatives that celebrate freedom. In collaboration with its clubs, Black Players for Change (BPC), an independent organization of Black MLS players, coaches, and staff seeking to increase inclusion in soccer that was established on Juneteenth 2020, MLS programs will include a limited-edition jersey auction, and the playing of the Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) before matches on the weekend beginning June 18.
“This leaguewide recognition is a wonderful celebration of freedom made possible by our deep collaboration with Black Players for Change,” said MLS Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer Sola Winley. “It was our collective hope to honor this significant moment in American history by celebrating the freedom fighters of our past as well as acknowledging the freedom fighters of today that continue to shine a light on the need for equality, prosperity and freedom for all. In the span of only one year, we have ideated together to take meaningful actions for change both inside and outside of our sport.”
The Juneteenth-inspired numbers on the jerseys of all players competing during the weekend of June 18-20 were designed by Indianapolis native Israel Solomon in collaboration with MLS and Black Players for Change. The jersey numbers – presented in a bold, empowering, and visually attractive sharp-line red, black and green pattern – are inspired by Black culture and symbolize ancestry, liberation, and cultural vibrancy.
“When approached with the opportunity to design the Juneteenth-inspired numbers, I wanted to use this platform to educate within a work of art,” said Solomon. “After collaborating with MLS and BPC, their clear vision to use this piece as a means to celebrate and educate led to the creation of something that was bold, prideful, and visually attractive.”
The jersey numbers and the limited-edition jersey packaging illustrate the history and importance of Juneteenth and pay homage to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The imagery reinforces the message that Black players in MLS are standing tall because they stand on the shoulders of the freedom fighters who came before them.
The game-worn jerseys from each team and their commemorative boxes are set to be auctioned off in three phases from June 21-July 19. Proceeds from the auction will benefit organizations supporting and uplifting Black communities in the markets of MLS teams. Additional auction information, including how to place a bid, will be available at MLSauctions.com.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, chosen collaboratively by FCC and defender Joseph-Claude Gyau, the Club’s BPC representative. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center reveals stories about freedom's heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.
“We helped build this initiative to bridge the gap between generations celebrating Juneteenth and everyone who is still being introduced this day,” said Toronto FC defender and BPC Executive Director Justin Morrow. “We hope that these jerseys will help shed light on the historical significance of Juneteenth, which is necessary context for where we are in society today. Understanding Black History is imperative to building a better society.”
MLS, BPC, and Pitch Black – the League’s employee resource group for Black employees – have joined forces on several programs and initiatives to make meaningful change both inside and outside of MLS. On Juneteenth 2020, this collaboration led to impactful programming to educate the League Office staff on June 19 as an important marker in American history. The continuation of play at the MLS is Back Tournament began with a powerful demonstration of more than 170 Black MLS players standing in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the fight for justice, and the MLS Unites to Vote campaign sought to register all eligible players and MLS staff members to vote in the 2020 election.
MLS clubs also will activate through various initiatives in their home markets to recognize Juneteenth. A list of leaguewide Juneteenth commemoration plans for all clubs is available on MLSsoccer.com.
MLS will continue to collaborate and support BPC’s opportunities to use their voices and their platforms as players to make meaningful and sustainable change.