Last Friday, the current President of the United States signed an executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The order extended to those who had green cards or other documentation allowing them long-term residency in the US, going so far as to apply to people on airplanes in transit back to America. The EO created chaos at home and abroad as thousands of people flocked to airport terminals to protest the order, attorneys demanding to offer detainees representation, and border patrol agents continuing to hold green card migrants in defiance of court orders demanding their release.
In the midst of the massive backlash to the travel ban and the White House’s attempts to pretend that everything’s just fine, the USMNT were set to host their first match of 2017 and the first of Bruce Arena’s second spell in charge. In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl ahead of their friendly against Serbia (which ultimately played out to a scoreless draw), USA captain and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley expressed reservations against Donald Trump’s new immigration directive.
”I get this idea that there are people who think for the time being we as a country need to think about ourselves and the security of our country first and foremost. As a father of two young children, I can understand that. But ultimately, I truly believe the United States is a country that has always been about welcoming people from all over the world and giving them an opportunity for a better life, an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Later, Bradley posted on Instagram saying that while he stands by what he said, he felt he minced his words too much and offered a much stronger postscript.
”I gave an answer where I tried to make it clear that while I understand the need for safety, the values and ideals of our country should never be sacrificed. I believe what I said, but it was too soft. The part I left out is how sad and embarrassed I am. When Trump was elected, I only hoped that the President Trump would be different that the campaigner Trump. That the xenophobic, misogynistic and narcissistic rhetoric would be replaced with a more humble and measured approach to leading our country. I was wrong. And the Muslim ban is just the latest example of someone who couldn't be more out of touch with our country and the right way to move forward.”
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Just this afternoon, the MLS Players Union released a statement praising Bradley for speaking out and denouncing the new White House policy.
The travel ban isn't just a hypothetical issue for Major League Soccer. Players such as Columbus' Justin Meram (22 caps for Iraq) and Toronto's Steven Beitashour (6 caps for Iran) could face complications while travelling to and from the US for matches over the course of the season. Both are dual-nationals with US passports, which should protect them, but given the chaos and lack of clear legal guidance from the White House this could well change.
Men's soccer in the US isn't alone in grappling with this new travel ban. Lyon and USWNT star Alex Morgan tweeted this over the weekend:
In contrast to statements from prominent American players, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati declined to offer any substantive statement on the travel ban. The most he was willing to offer was speculation on how it would or would not affect the US bid for the 2026 World Cup.
”Sports obviously involves international movement and free movement of players, of ideas. How this plays out in terms of international events, I think that's frankly a secondary issue right now. The issue involving the executive order and its implications are far broader than [the World Cup bid].”
Gulati did offer some support for Bradley and his decision to speak out. “I saw Michael's comments yesterday and they were clearly heartfelt,” Gulati said. “Absolutely no issue whatsoever.” This is a curious position to take considering how Gulati feels about political speech when it comes from Megan Rapinoe. While some would argue that the optics aren't quite the same— an interview with the press versus a protest during the national anthem before a game— they're really not that different substantively.
While there remains an open question of how bad things would need to be before Gulati and US Soccer are finally compelled to take some principled stands, it’s nice to see some prominent American footballers— the national team captain, no less— refusing to make nice or stick to sports.