When the Milwaukee Bucks refused to step on the court for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic in wake of the recent shooting of Jacob Blake at the hands of Kenosha Police, it sent shockwaves across the sports world.
Nearly 2,900 miles away from the NBA bubble, the MLS' Portland Timbers were headed to Earthquakes Stadium in San Jose for their 7:30 p.m. match with the San Jose Earthquakes.
While the MLS is Back champions are determined to bounce back from their lopsided loss to rival the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, Timbers coach Gio Savarese said there were more important conversations happening between him and his team following the shooting of Blake, a black man, who was shot seven times by police.
"While we were trying to plan and understand how to move forward, we are told that the discussion is to not move forward in regard to playing the match, a decision made by all parts after communicating and at the end, we made it close to the stadium and we learned that the game wasn't going to happen, so we went back to the hotel and started planning out return to Portland," Savarese said Friday.
"The conversation with the players, the staff, it was united, it was great communication. It was a lot of understanding and listening and learning in how to move forward."
I feel really proud in how the team handled the situation, that all of us participated in. -- Gio Savarese
Timbers defender Chris Duvall said his team's decision to not take the pitch was welcomed. He also thought it was the right thing to do.
"With the locker room that we have, that's so together and so strong, there was no push-back, it was very quick, everyone was on the same page," Duvall said. "I think that's just a testament to how together this group is, how in tune with each other they are. We care about each other and we care about what's happening in each other's lives, so to be affected by this, it affects all of us."
As conversations regarding racial injustice and police brutality of the black community continue inside the Timbers locker room, Savarese believes there's an opportunity for his players to use their platform to speak out.
"I have to say this is a matter that shouldn't be taken only a group," Savarese said. "This is a matter that all of us should be a part of and support, and so the conversation is ongoing with everybody. The players had a meeting – we had meetings with players, we spoke with everyone and we tried to understand how to support, how the mentality is, and what I have to say is what I said before, I'm extremely proud of every player and how they're handling this situation right now. How they're trying to each be a part of a better world, how everybody's conscientious in trying to make sure we move forward together and in the right way."
Duvall feels like it's his obligation to speak out, and not just because he's a soccer player.
"I think in a lot of ways athletes are asked to be more than athletes. They're asked to be role models; they're asked to hold themselves in a certain way because there are eyes on them," Duvall said. "There are children's eyes, there are adults' eyes and they're in the limelight and so I think it's an opportunity for us to use our platform for more than just soccer and more than just sports. And I think, thankfully the NBA led the way in that, and we were able to do the same, but we're humans, and we are affected by these things that are happening in our country, and we feel strongly about them."
So, to be able to voice our opinion I think is just another way that we are setting an example for the young kids that are coming up, to show that they can speak out for what they believe in and also to use our platform and our visibility to be able to do something big. -- Chris Duvall
Teams across various sports leagues boycotted games and leveraged their influence to stand for equality and racism. Many of those leagues, including the NBA and MLS, are now discussing ways to return.
The Timbers are scheduled to take the pitch on Saturday against Real Salt Lake, a team that has recently made headlines after allegations were made that owner Dell Loy Hansen has a history of making racist remarks.
How the MLS and Real Salt Lake will move on from Hansen's insensitive and tone-deaf comments remains unknown. The Timbers await the next domino to fall.
Until then, Savarese and the Timbers prepare for Real Salt Lake. RSL distributed a release on Friday, acknowledging their travel to Portland for the game, so it appears the game will go on as originally scheduled.
"I know that between players, the MLS, and the organization, that discussions are ongoing to try to make the right decision in regard to all the teams playing," Savarese said. "But as of now, the expectation is that we will play tomorrow."