“Racism takes many forms. Sometimes it’s an obvious individual manifestation, but it’s also the structural barriers embedded in the game at different levels, but the end result is the same – people of color are excluded from the game,” former MLS and USMNT player, Tony Sanneh explains at the launch of the Anti-Racist Project (ARP).
Sanneh has become a name synonomous with soccer for social change. His foundation, The Sanneh Foundation has been around since 2004. Through it, he has reached countless youth and young adults, and has worked tirelessly in his post-professional soccer career to devote himself to creating the change he wished to see as a player. Some of his experiences as a player were unsavorable. “I remember being chased around the field being called the N-word” Sanneh recalls. He has been a fixture in the Sports Diplomacy and Social Change world for decades.
Today, as the Los Angeles soccer community spent the morning (and afternoon) applauding the just-released LA Galaxy 2021 Community kit that payed homage to the club’s early decades and sold out within thirty minutes, Angel City FC and their fellow members of the Common Goal collective launched the Anti-Racist Project (ARP), an intiaitve with the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of youth. They introduced a product line that ACFC and local LA artist Chris Burnett created of which 100% (yes, 100%!) of the profits for the first 1000 items sold go to the ARP. After that, 10% of the profits will go to the ARP. Seems much more impactful than a kit, right? So, if you missed out on that kit today, here is your chance to support a piece of soccer apparel that does more for others.
Common Goal is a large collective of individual members, organizations, and businesses. Joining Sanneh and ACFC are Oakland Roots (USL), which was the first US professional team to join Common Goal, Chicago Fire FC (MLS), the American Outlaws. USMNT and Manchester City F.C. goalkeeper Zack Steffen was early to join them committing his personal and financial support. “There’s been so much talk over the last months about racism in soccer and beyond, and enough is enough. It’s time to take action. We need to show people how to be anti-racist,” Steffan explains. “I wanted to join this project because it is the kind of collective action necessary to make large-scale change, and I hope that this project will go worldwide and create a new culture of inclusion in as many countries as possible.”
The ARP will deliver a modified and scaled version of the Sanneh Foundation’s proven and time-tested curriculum, using the resources from their launch partners to train 5,000 coaches, 60,000 youth, and 115 staff in more than 400 communities in the first year. The novel curriculum was designed by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to deliver anti-racist training from grassroots to the highest level of play. As support grows, reach potential builds.
There are currently no Black majority owners of MLS Clubs and no Black coaches in the NWSL. “We know what the problem is – now is the time to go and fix it,” Sanneh reiterates.
“The needle doesn’t move unless everyone is involved,” said Oakland Roots defender Max Ornstil. “It’s not enough for white people to just say they support people of color. As white people we need to be willing to get uncomfortable, be vulnerable and have difficult conversations. Because change doesn’t happen without that. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.”
One of the most critical pieces of social change is knowing when a moment can become a movement. 2020 was a series of moments that had the potential to combine into a lasting movement. We saw sports leagues across the U.S. combine forces and gain the collective support of the American people. In 2021, the concern has become to battle complacency and a natural human tendency to shift the needle back to the middle rather than continuing forward, to grab hold of the momentum before it’s too late. It’s worth noting that today we lost an opportunity – this was a chance for LA Galaxy, LAFC and even the USWNT who lifted the She Believes Cup Trophy in a 6-0 trounce over Argentina, to join the ARP. Words of support matter, but actions matter more. And too many groups that have the ability to do more, opt to stay silent and keep out of the fray.
Angel City FC is taking on a leadership role in Los Angeles well before it begins playing on the field. “Angel City FC’s mission is to make an impact on and off-the-field, and our partnership with Common Goal is a natural extension of our commitment to equity in sports,” said Julie Uhrman, Co-Founder and President, ACFC.
There are no sidelines in racism.