July 27, 2020
Courtesy of MLS Italia
After the death of George Floyd and the protests of Black Lives Matter for the protection of the rights of African American people, we wanted to interview Justin Reid of BSMA, to understand what is the current situation of African American people and people belonging to other minorities in the world of American soccer.
How was BSMA born and what is its mission?
Created in March 2018, the Black Soccer Membership Association’s goal is to develop the largest soccer/football association in the world to serve the needs of the Black soccer community. There are an estimated 2 billion blacks in the African diaspora around the world, of the 7.5 billion total world’s population. This number provides us with a large platform to serve the African diaspora and we will continue to work tirelessly for our members to provide the support needed to navigate the challenging landscape of the business of soccer. Our mission is to provide visionary leadership and advocacy in the realization of empowerment. Through the development of resources and initiatives, we support African, African-American, Caribbean, and European Black administrators, coaches, players, and referees in addition to organizations who work to develop and promote inclusiveness in the business of soccer at all levels.
How do you think soccer has helped and can help black communities in the US?
There are many inner-city soccer programs in the United States that have done a great job providing after-school programming for the black community. However, the biggest issue in the US is the pay-to-play system where suburban families pay anywhere between $4,000-$5,000 annually for their kids to play travel soccer. I can’t personally fully discredit the pay to play model because I have been a benefactor of it who has been able to coach soccer full-time, however, more can be done by these clubs who are accepting these fees to welcome inner-city youths.
The major youth clubs in my state generate anywhere between $3-$5 million annually. They host major tournaments that can generate nearly $1 million of their revenue, yet there isn’t much inclusion for inner city black youth in their clubs. My suggestion is that the clubs should have an obligation to connect with the local political municipalities and make every effort to obtain funding to scholarship inner-city youth. These major clubs should also be required to send their coaches into inner city schools between 3-5 pm siringa the weekdays. Many of the major clubs around the country have very wealthy people on their boards who engage in philanthropy, but I see very little effort from youth clubs to help inner city youth.
Your statistics say that a high percentage of black people play football both in universities and in professional leagues, but very few are engaged in coaching. What does it depend on? What are the solutions?
We do annual studies to gauge the number of black coaches on the college and professional levels. In terms of professional clubs, I think that blacks are far more valued as players than they are as coaches. In the 26-year history of Major League Soccer there has never been an African American head coach. Currently, Thierry Henry (France) and Robin Fraser (Jamaica) are the only black coaches in the league. Neither are from the United States. Cobi Jones had an interim position with the L.A. Galaxy in the early 2000s, but he was never selected for a head coaching role (Ruud Gullit trained Galaxy between 2007 and 2008. Patrick Vieira trained NYCFC between 2015 and 2018, editor’s note). On the University level, there are about 60 black head coaches of the 1780+ NCAA programs. Which isn’t a lot compared to the number of black college players. The National Women’s Soccer League has never had a black head coach. So, based on the numbers blacks are more valued on the field than they are on the sidelines.
There are no real solutions to this problem because the owner of a professional team will always select the coach that they feel most comfortable. In 2007, MLS developed the Rooney Rule, but this has fallen on deaf ears plus there are plenty of loop holes. I remember one year when one MLS team interviewed a coach from Argentina who had no interest in the job, just to fulfill its Rooney Rule obligation. I think that is a slap in the face for a black player who has played in the league and who may have the right credentials to become an MLS coach.
Same thing applies to college. The Athletic Director will always choose the coach that they prefer so it will always be a challenge for a Black coach to obtain a head coaching role because you are always relying on others to control your faith. So, we tell our members to continue searching for opportunities, it may not come at the professional or college routes. Maybe they will need to start their own club, school, or program to get the opportunities that they deserve.
Do you think that MLS and NWSL are not committed enough to respect minorities?
On the field yes, on the sidelines and in the press box, no. In MLS, Blacks and Latinos make up 55% of the league’s roster yet they only make up about 20% of the head coaches in the league. Again, it is in the numbers and until the number of minority head coaches change, then I will say that they do not respect minorities. From an ownership standpoint it is even worse. I believe that the Brazilian owner in Orlando, who we could classify as Latino, is the lone minority principal owner in the league among the 26 teams. As for the women, there are zero minority owners.
What are the solutions to make the treatment of black communities and other minorities in North American soccer fairer?
This is going to be an unfavorable response, but there needs to be a black professional soccer league. Somewhat like the Negro Leagues in the early to mid-1900s. This doesn’t mean that we have to live pre-Civil Rights movement, but when you integrate you tend to lose a sense of your community and I think that Blacks in soccer have lost this sense of community. We all want equality, but to earn equality you have to have your own. This black professional soccer league can be a feeder to MLS and USL, but in order to get Black coaches opportunities this is the only way. If other ethnicities would like to launch Hispanic or Jewish professional soccer leagues, then I say go right ahead. I am a believer that equality is not given, but earned, and if you can prove to someone looked at as superior to you that you can keep up with them or maybe even be better than them, then that person would respect equality.
Your association is also committed to finding managerial outlets for young people in soccer. What are you working on to make it possible?
We have focused on three main objectives to help our members acquire managerial positions:
- We help prepare them to become competitive. Here is what I mean. If a young coach wants to aspire to become a college head coach, then the first thing that we do is to check their resume. We know that many college hires have a Masters Degree in Business or Sports Management and a United States Soccer Federation “A” License. So we set a 5 year plan for that coach to acquire these credentials and more licenses to be competitive. Black soccer coaches in college are only at about5% of the 1780 college soccer positions in the NCAA. So we do not have much representation there either. So, we have to prepare our coaches for long-term success.
- We promote our coaches to Athletic Directors in colleges and notify them if there are any positions available. We then endorse them and help them to get interviews.
- We keep all of our members’ information on file and work as an agent. Prior to Covid-19, we have always interacted with college programs whether by visiting the Athletic Directors on campus or attending functions. So we are always networking to promote our members. We know all of them first hand.
What is your commitment in Black Lives Matter?
As an organization we support the movement and its commitment to eradicating racism. However, much of what I have seen from the movement has been symbolic without any real substance. The removal of statues, fists in the air, and kneeling are good but neither provide any economic impact to benefit the black community. The reason why the black community in the inner-cities are dealing with racism is due to the condition of our people. Now, by me being a black male who grew up in the city of Washington, D.C. and moved to the suburbs, I have faced profiling and racism multiple times. But my parents always prepared me on how to deal with the police. You can visit any major city in the United States whether Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, etc. and the common denominator in each city is how destitute the black community remains. Improving the condition of blacks in the inner cities needs to be the focus first of BLM. We need the following questions answered, how can we feed those in poverty? How can we provide adequate schools? How can we combat the infiltration of drugs in the cities? After we answer these questions and make a courageous effort to improve the condition of the black community in the inner-cities then we can eradicate racism. George Floyd did not deserve to die, but if he were better off economically then the police would not have been called and he probably wouldn’t have found himself in that dire situation. According to the police records, his death stemmed from a counterfeit $20 bill or a bounce check. Again, he didn’t deserve to die but if he were in a better position economically, he’d still be alive today.
Let’s talk about sports. Who are the three most representative players of the black community in the history of soccer in the USA?
This is a tough one because I know or know of most current and former black soccer players who have come through US soccer history and I can’t really point to one who has had a true commitment to helping out the black soccer community. But what I will say is that we have many blacks involved on the grassroots level who have done a tremendous job with programs in the inner-cities. People like Tony Carter and Soccer in the Streets, a program based in Atlanta, he and his team have done outstanding. Kenny Owens, he is no longer involved with soccer at the grassroots level I believe, but when he worked for D.C. Scores he and his team made a strong commitment to the advancement of soccer in the community. Kim Crabbe, the first black female player to play for the U.S. Women’s National team is based in Wilmington, North Carolina and she has done a fantastic job with her program. Amir Lowery, runs a program called the Open Goal Project where they find inner city youth to play club soccer. He has done a fantastic job and has made a commitment to combating the pay to play model. So its not the well-known former black players or coaches who have made an impact on the black soccer community because I will be frank a lot of them could care less about the community. I saw a handful of them with their fists up at the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando, and I laugh because I have reached out to many of them about supporting the Black Soccer Membership Association in some capacity or the other and have received no responses. You have to always be weary of those who act the part in front of the camera, but show no actions to combat the problem and the reason why they have their fists in the air when the cameras are off.
A few years ago we interviewed Boyna Bear, of the Native American Soccer Coaches Committee, he said that soccer helped native communities to be resilient. What word would you use for your relationship with soccer?
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Soccer in the black community isn’t as big as soccer in the Hispanic community but what I will say is that the sport specifically in the inner cities, has provided an active lifestyle for the youth. In some of our black communities the youth have problems with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and blood pressure because of the fast food restaurants that have become unwanted staples, so soccer helps to combat this and provide a platform for a child who may not be interested in the sport, but want to run around and be with his or her friends.