Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Gametime Call

A strike, reflection and hope for change halted sports across the country
TIME OUT: San Jose Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski called the one-day strike a "no brainer." CC By: ElectricTV on YouTube

Even in the confines of a nondescript parking garage outside Earthquakes Stadium, we could sense that American pro sports were reaching a serious inflection point.

To be more precise, it wasn't just a point of inflection; to this columnist, it felt more like a matrix of inflection. As of last Wednesday, Aug. 26, time seemed to warp in strange ways. Coincidences were afoot.

Last week, the San Jose Earthquakes were supposed to resume their 2020 Major League Soccer season at home against the Portland Timbers after months of serious safety precautions to accommodate the Covid-19 era. The game would have been the first professional sporting event in Santa Clara County since the initial lockdown in March.

But as the afternoon wore on, anger over yet another dubious police shooting of an unarmed Black man triggered the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks to go on strike and refuse to play game five of their playoff series. Five other NBA teams followed suit, as did the Giants and the Seattle Mariners.

As a relatively young competition, Major League Soccer isn't known for these kinds of public sacrificial battles, at least not on the level of the other major sports. So it was amazing to be there when it happened, even if the news came as only a few media were in the process of getting our temperatures taken inside a parking garage en route to the press box.

First we heard Portland refused to play the game, followed several minutes later by a similar statement from the Earthquakes. Other MLS games followed suit, cancelling their evening match-ups. Only one other game, which had already started, played through to its conclusion.

Then the league chimed in, solely to exert power by suggesting it made the decision to halt the games, which everyone knew was nonsense. It was the players that made the call. By sheer coincidence, the strike took place on the fourth anniversary of the day Colin Kaepernick gracefully took a knee for the first time. And whether the Quakes realized it or not, maybe they were also standing in the footsteps of SJSU legends Tommie Smith and John Carlos. My mind automatically bends in this way, so I couldn't ignore the historical context.

After the game was postponed, many Quakes fans understood that centuries of racial injustice, police brutality and systemic white supremacy were far more important problems than the loss of their privilege to escape it all by watching sports, so they fully supported the club's decision. That's not to say all fans supported it, but many.

What everyone wanted to see next was a statement from the team's captain, 37-year-old Chris Wondolowski, known by fans as "Wondo." He delivered big time on Thursday.

In a Zoom call with reporters, Wondolowski spoke for 30 minutes, declaring the situation was indeed way beyond sports, and the issues were too important to ignore any longer.

"This is all about the racial inequalities that we've seen and have taken place," he said. "It's not acceptable. It has to change and it's time to change."

Continuing, Wondo said the players felt by using their platform on Wednesday, they could make the biggest impact and open up new channels of communication because they couldn't help but talk about it. He would continue to stand with players throughout the league to facilitate societal change.

"It's a no-brainer, I'm staying with my brothers," he said. "This game is part of my life but we're talking about something way, way bigger than this. We're talking about human beings not being treated equally."

The next day—which just happened to be the anniversary of Emmett Till's murder on Aug. 28, 1955—MLS released a standard tone-deaf PR blurb. It was resuming play after "a period of reflection and conversation with the Black Players for Change (BPC), the league's players, and the MLS Players Association (MLSPA)," adding that BPC were scheduled to meet with MLS owners to help create long-term change, inside and outside of the league.

Last Saturday the Quakes flew to SoCal to play the LA Galaxy that night and LAFC on Wednesday, Sept. 2. This Saturday, the team plays at home against Colorado. The Portland game has been rescheduled to Sept. 16.