Soccer

MLS Fans Boo Kneeling Players During Anthem and Target Player with Death Threats

The MLS is Back Tournament concluded on Tuesday and the two soccer teams that missed out on all the tournament action due to virus outbreaks—Nashville SC and Dallas FC—restarted the 2020 regular season in Dallas a day later. It didn’t go as smoothly as many had hoped and expected. Some fans booed when players from both teams and the match officials kneeled during the national anthem.

Many of the players were unhappy with the fans, and FC Dallas defender and U.S. men’s national team member Reggie Cannon addressed the actions with the media in the post-game conference. After expressing his frustration with the fans, Cannon was then the target of racist comments and death threats on social media. The MLS and FC Dallas have responded.  

MLS is Back Tournament when players first kneeled

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When the MLS is Back Tournament started in late July at the Orlando bubble, the opening game featured Orlando City and Miami FC. In the pre-game ceremonies, MLS choreographed a poignant protest that included almost 200 MLS players who took the field dressed in all black T-shirts with various slogans, black gloves, and black face masks emblazoned with Black Lives Matter.

The players walked toward midfield and raised their right arms, one at a time, similar to Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medals podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The players held the pose long enough where some players could be seen stretching their fatigued arms at the ceremony’s conclusion. 

The entire ceremony was organized by the Black Players for Change, a new collection of MLS players created to combat racial inequalities and systemic racism both on and off the field. Both the league and players’ union endorsed the group. The two Florida teams shared another moment of silence with the referees and line judges taking a knee before the opening kick similar to what’s happened in other leagues around the world. 

MLS fans boo when players kneeled in Dallas 

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With FC Dallas and Nashville SC unable to compete in the MLS is Back Tournament because both squads were battling viral outbreaks, it made sense for MLS to restart the season with those teams and their now healthy players, who had yet to see any game action in months. With several thousand fans in the seats at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, FC Dallas played host to Nashville SC in its inaugural season. 

As had happened in all tournament games in Orlando, players and officials jointly kneeled before the start of the game. Unlike Orlando, where the national anthem was not played absent any fans, some fans in Dallas started booing when players kneeled during the national anthem. Some began chanting, “USA!” repeatedly.

After that initial round of boos and chants, the game started and there were no additional incidents throughout the contest, which Dallas lost 1-0. 

FC Dallas players upset with home fans 

Following the game, FC Dallas players were upset by the loss, but more frustrated and embarrassed by the action of the few MLS fans booing during the national anthem. Dallas defender and U.S. men’s national team member Reggie Cannon emotionally expressed his feelings in the post-game press conference.

“As a team, we try to give the best possible product on that field, and these last six months have been absolute hell for us,” Cannon said. “Absolute hell, because we had to watch other people play soccer, and we’re just sitting at home, unfortunately, contracting COVID… And the opportunity presented itself to play tonight and unfortunately we’re mad– and upset not to get the win– but I was pissed. Everyone around me was pissed.

“Ryan Hollingshead, the first thing he said to me after we got up from the knee he said ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m sorry for our fans because we had someone chanting ‘USA’ when they don’t understand what kneeling means, they don’t understand why we’re kneeling. They can’t see the reason, they just think we’re the ignorant ones, and it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m sorry to have this tone, but you have to call it for what it is.

“I even knew when we decided to kneel; I knew it was going to happen. That should tell you something, that I knew we were going to have some negative pushback from having a unified response over what’s going on. That’s the problem. It hurts me. I love our fans. I love this club. And I want to see the support that the league has given us, that everyone has given us, from our fans.”

Fans send death threats; MLS and FC Dallas respond

Following Cannon’s emotional comments, some fans took to social media posting racist comments, while others took it to another level threatening the MLS star with death. The MLS and FC Dallas both responded with statements.

Cannon’s response to the MLS fans booing is understandable. The vitriolic response by some fans is unacceptable. It is a setback for the league that has been very vocal and proactive in its support of the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting against racial injustice. Everyone will be watching on Sunday to see how the league and teams respond when the two teams meet again in a rematch in Texas.