Major League Soccer (MLS) announced on Wednesday a series of initiatives to celebrate Juneteenth – the historic date commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans in the U.S. All programs are a close collaboration between MLS, the league’s 28 clubs, and Black Players for Change (BPC) – an independent organization of Black MLS players, coaches, and staff working to bridge the racial equality gap in soccer and society– and are a continuation of MLS’ work to bring awareness to the significant contributions of Black Americans, and to foster more inclusive and equitable communities.
“To me Juneteenth is a reminder for all Americans to understand and recognize African American history,” said Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson. “To understand how far this country has come, but also to understand how far we have to go.”
When MLS’ 28 clubs take to the field this weekend (June 18-19), all players will be wearing jerseys featuring Juneteenth-inspired numbers designed by Judah, a Black queer artist from Childersburg, Alabama. Middleton, who now resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., created the numbers – a vibrant yellow, green, and red color palette, to represent the blood, soil and prosperity of Africa and its people.
“Juneteenth is essentially just a celebration of the end of slavery and for the Black community, that’s a very historical moment,” said Inter Miami CF goalkeeper Drake Callender. “It’s a way for us to connect to our ancestors, all the sacrifices they made for our freedom.”
Presented in commemorative boxes, the game-worn jerseys will be available for fans to acquire via an online auction from June 20 – July 5. Proceeds from the auction will benefit organizations supporting and uplifting Black communities in the markets of MLS clubs. (A complete list of auction beneficiaries can be found below). Additional auction information, including how to place a bid, are now available at MLSauctions.com.
“My thoughts overall on Juneteenth are positive, simply because it’s a holiday that’s now nationally recognized,” said Columbus Crew defender Jalil Anibaba. “It’s a part of American history and I think it’s a good thing for it to be out in the forefront for everyone to learn about.”
The jersey numbers and the limited-edition jersey packaging illustrate the history and importance of Juneteenth and reinforce the notion of “Freedom To Be,” emphasizing everyone’s inherent freedom to be their true selves in every facet of life. Featured in the packaging is the powerful poem “Freedom,” one of the most seminal works by the legendary African American poet, novelist, and social activist Langston Hughes.
Written in 1949, at a time when African Americans continued to face intense racism, disenfranchisement, and segregation, “Freedom” is unwavering in its call for freedom for African Americans. The inside of the packaging includes a space for MLS players to write a proclamation of what they are “Free To Be.”
“When I think about Juneteenth, I think about progress, whether that’s freeing slaves in 1865 or recognizing it as a national holiday recently,” said New England Revolution goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. “I think our country has always been working towards being a place of inclusivity and as we continue to work toward that, I think recognizing it as a national holiday is another big step for us.”
MLS continues to support the efforts of Black Players for Change to use their voices and their platforms as players to make meaningful and sustainable change. The jersey packaging includes a timeline detailing BPC’s historic impact on MLS and culture since its inception, including their historic #MLSisBlack demonstration of solidarity when the league safely returned to action in the summer of 2020 early in the COVID-19 pandemic and their mini-pitch initiative.
In addition to the Juneteenth jerseys, MLS is continuing their efforts to activate various initiatives to recognize Juneteenth. Initiatives include:
- Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) will be played at all 14 MLS matches this weekend. Adidas has also created Unity pre-match tops to celebrate diversity and unity. Fans will have an opportunity to purchase the Unity pre-match tops at MLSstore.comand at stadium retail locations.
- The League will make a donation to 100 Black Men of America and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women – organizations the League partnered with in 2020 that are focused on promoting mentorship, leadership development, and gender equity in the areas of health, education and economic empowerment for Black men, women, boys and girls.
- MLS clubs also will activate through various initiatives in their home markets to recognize Juneteenth. For example, Nashville SC is partnering with the National Museum of African American Music to curate music and entertainment, and will honor local African American leaders, military members, and community stakeholders through its Section 615, Hero of the Match and Military Salute Activations. Columbus SC are creating a commemorative Juneteenth mini-pitch, while FC Cincinnati are participating in the Juneteenth Cincinnati Festival, and Chicago Fire FC are supporting the South Shore Book Club’s Juneteenth Resource Fair. A complete list of league-wide Juneteenth commemoration plans for all clubs is available on MLSsoccer.com.
- MLS, BPC, and Pitch Black – the League’s employee resource group for Black employees – have also joined forces on programs and initiatives to make meaningful change both inside and outside of MLS. Additional details will be available onMLSsoccer.com.
The commemoration and celebration of Juneteenth is the latest initiative in MLS’ efforts to drive positive social change and encourage racial reconciliation. In November 2021, MLS unveiled a series of updates and enhancements to its Diversity Hiring Policy for sporting positions with the clubs.
The changes, created with a working group of club personnel, league executives, Black Players for Change and other current and former MLS players, were made to increase the policy’s efficacy, add a specific focus on the hiring of Black candidates and strengthen the policy’s enforcement mechanisms.
In March 2022, MLS announced that it would leverage a historic $25 million loan from a syndicate of Black banks, marking the first time any sports league has participated in a major commercial transaction exclusively with Black banks. The partnership was facilitated by the nonprofit National Black Bank Foundation.
For more information, visit MLSsoccer.com.