USMNT backing up words with actions in calling for stronger gun laws
KANSAS CITY, Kansas — It should not fall to the U.S. men’s soccer team to shame the politicians elected to represent us into doing what the majority of Americans want.
And yet, here we are.
Expressing the outrage so many of us feel at the gun violence that is as unrelenting as it is preventable, the U.S. men sent an open letter to every member of Congress on Sunday calling on them to, as they wrote, “do something.”
“Our ability to affect change is limited,” they wrote, “but yours is not.”
The letter was noteworthy not only for its strong language – “our thoughts and prayers won’t solve this problem” – but for who sent it. This isn’t a team that represents a particular city or region in the United States.
They represent all of us, as the crest on their uniforms proudly proclaims.
“I hope it has more of an impact, for sure,” defender Walker Zimmerman said after the USMNT’s 0-0 draw against Uruguay on Sunday afternoon. “We’re an incredibly diverse group made up of so many backgrounds, and it’s a common cause that we can all believe in.”
U.S. men’s teams, no matter the sport, have not traditionally been outspoken on social issues. Certainly not like the U.S. women’s soccer, basketball and hockey teams, for whom advocacy is as much a part of their DNA as speed and strength.
But the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, two weeks ago, and the other mass shootings that have followed without interruption, broke something in this country.
Or maybe it gave those of us who’ve grown weary of hoping politicians would act in our best interests instead of theirs the courage and the fury to say enough. To demand that something, finally, be done.
“Please stop choosing campaign contributions over kids’ lives. Stop being steered by some misguided notion that voting for gun reform legislation – or even refusing to talk about it in the first place – will get you voted out of office,” the U.S. men wrote.
“Instead, do what is necessary to prevent this from happening again.”
Or maybe these U.S. men simply represent the best of us, a generation that hasn’t been hollowed out by hate and fear.
This U.S. men’s team is as diverse as any the United States has ever had. Its players are Black, white and brown. They come from red states, blue states and overseas. Some play in Europe, some in the United States. Some are liberal, some are conservative.
But they all recognize that they need one another. That they are better together than on their own, and that tearing one another down only harms them all.
They also understand that representing the United States, particularly at an event like the World Cup, gives them both a platform and an opportunity. They do not take either lightly.
This is the group that joined with the U.S. women in a historical collective bargaining agreement that will give the teams equal pay, including an even split of pooled prize money from the men’s and women’s World Cups. This is also a group that has been educating itself for the past year about human rights abuses in Qatar, and plans to address them them during the World Cup.
“It’s good that this group is asking for action and asking people to make change,” said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, who wore an orange T-shirt, the color that represents efforts to stop gun violence.
“`Be the change’ is something we’ve been part of for a while now, and this is just applying it in another area,” he added. “So I’m really proud of the group.”
Zimmerman and Christian Pulisic said it was Berhalter who first raised the idea of addressing gun violence, but the players quickly agreed that they wanted to say something. Needed to say something.
The players worked together to draft the letter, and Zimmerman said there was “unanimous, 100 percent” agreement on what was sent.
Strong, and damning, as their statement was, the players were also specific in their call for action. They want House members to “vote yes on all the (gun violence) bills” that will be considered in the coming days. They asked for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate so legislation can simply get to the floor.
They urged both to “work together to finalize legislation that does more than the bare minimum and will bring about a meaningful reduction in gun violence.”
So the urgency of their requests would not be missed, they put all those words in bold.
“It’s getting to a point where anything that we can do and trying to take action — people can say, `It’s not the guns, it’s the people,’ but we have to start somewhere,” Pulisic said.
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The U.S. men know there will be some who will tell them to “stick to sports,” that athletes shouldn’t insert themselves into politics.
But when our politicians refuse to lead on an issue this important, on a matter that has majority support among all Americans, then the U.S. men are willing to step into the void.
“Certainly, we can all agree that the safety of the children in our country is a sacred responsibility that is shared by all of us. We believe it would be irresponsible not to use our platform to raise awareness and call for change,” they wrote.
“Our activism is borne out of necessity – we are talking about this issue because many of you refuse to take action.”
The World Cup doesn’t begin until November. No matter how the U.S. men fare in Qatar, they’ve already given this country reason to be proud.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.