SANDY — With just over an hour to go until kickoff of Wednesday night’s Major League Soccer match at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL defender Justen Glad stood at midfield talking to a handful of teammates and players from Los Angeles FC.
None of them wore a jersey. All of them wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Black lives matter.”
On a night when MLS was scheduled to return to Rio Tinto Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd limited to 5,000 people, other matters intervened.
RSL’s match with LAFC was delayed shortly after 6:30 p.m. MDT, when players from both sides declined to take the field for pregame warmups. The move followed similar delays and postponements in the NBA, beginning with the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic, and WNBA in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The movement was driven by the players, supported by both clubs, and by the time word had trickled into the few hundred fans who were arriving for their first home RSL match in Sandy since March, the decision was met largely with approval.
“We wanted to be here playing in front of fans,” said RSL defender Nedum Onuoha, a native of Nigeria who has spent most of his life and career in England. “But life is bigger than sport, and I think at times, we can confuse the two.”
Onuoha, whose first experience with “the States” came after signing with RSL, said he’s had to learn a lot about the United States and its complicated history with race relations since moving here. Each time, he’s wanted to make a change.
Some of it has been painful. A lot of it has brought him to tears.
“The aim for this is to be a very big statement. This is solidarity. This is solidarity within the sports world. This is solidarity for me as a black male.” pic.twitter.com/P3PABKTydh
— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) August 27, 2020
“When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I cried. I cried for many reasons, but you look at it, and that could be me regardless of wherever I’m from,” Onuoha said. “That’s really troubling because I live my life here the same way I did when I was in the UK because I’ve got to be completely honest about that, in a way which is different to the lives of the most of the people I sit around.
“It’s sad when you see more and more cases. This is one of the best countries in the world, but there are certain things that are fundamentally incredibly wrong, but that they’re not changing. And that is the real troubling thing as a foreigner on these shores.”
Wednesday’s decision not to play began spilling across the country after the Milwaukee Bucks opted out of playing their first-round NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic. By mid-afternoon, RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath — who is one of two team representatives with the MLS Players’ Union — had contacted most of his side, and even some players from LAFC. Onuoha was one of the first.
The feeling was universal; nobody wanted to play.
“Nedum and I felt very strongly that we…