The San Jose Earthquakes were already dressed in uniform and ready to take the field in Wednesday’s scheduled home match against the Portland Timbers—the first pro sports event in Santa Clara County since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March.
Instead, the team seized the spotlight to make a statement in support of racial injustice.
Like teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLS and MLB, as well as athletes in pro tennis, the Quakes eschewed the game in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the shooting of Jacob Blake—the latest high-profile victim of police violence.
Leading us on and off the field.
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) August 27, 2020
“We felt it wasn’t justified for us to go out there,” Chris Wondolowski, the Quakes’ all-time leading goal scorer, said of the gesture. “We came to a [unanimous] decision because Wednesday was a great platform where we could speak about this. … We don’t want lip service anymore. It’s time for actual actions to be made.”
The canceled games earlier this week proved to be an unprecedented moment in sports history, as players and teams continue to protest systemic racism.
The shooting of Blake prompted the Milwaukee Bucks to pass on Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic.
The dominoes started to fall after that, as the NBA postponed the three remaining scheduled playoff games on the schedule.
The MLB and WNBA each tabled three games, while the MLS postponed five matches that were set for Wednesday night.
The shows of solidarity have continued from there.
“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American communities,” Bucks players said in a joint statement. “Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
Since strikes are banned under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, the Bucks athletes broke their own contract in order to protest racial injustice and police violence. Wondolowski, 37, credited the Bucks for their boldness.
Hopefully, he added, these kinds of protests will hasten real change.
“For the Milwaukee Bucks to do that, to have that courage and take that stand, it helped pave the way and shine light on a new path we could go where we could take this,” Wondolowski said in an interview today.
Wednesday’s cancelations could prove a watershed moment in pro sports history.
Over the years, some athletes’ protests have led to monumental changes, even if it took a couple of decades to realize. Some even changed hearts and minds of the general public. For many pro athletes, despite the backlash they experience, that is exactly the point.
“I love this game,” said Wondolowski, who has announced he will be retiring after this season. “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. … If I never play another game, I’ll have the biggest smile on my face if [our actions] could change even one or two people’s lives. It would be all worth it.”
Wondolowski, who is half Native American, described a poignant moment when he came home Wednesday night and explained to his daughters why he didn’t play.
“It was crazy, surreal—something that should not be taking place but needs to be taking place,” he recounted. “That’s why we’re taking this step. Mothers and fathers talking to their kids and telling them we’re not playing because of racial inequality, and why we would do it again in a heartbeat to show that every human being is the same and equal.”