Sticking to sports is no longer an option.
Now that President Trump has temporarily banned entry into the United States of all persons from seven predominantly Muslim countries – court orders be damned — the sports world must deal with a divisive political move that has very real effects on international athletes.
Some top athletes like Olympic Gold Medalist Mo Farah have already condemned Trump’s controversial Executive Order. At least one American league, the NBA, has asked the U.S. Department of State for help in understanding Trump’s Order out of concern for Sudan-born players Thon Maker and Luol Deng.
Yet noticeably and shockingly silent on Trump’s move is the U.S. soccer community and the top professional soccer league in North America, Major League Soccer.
Sure, U.S. National Team captain Michael Bradley blasted Trump’s policy on Instagram, but the U.S. Soccer Federation has refused to comment. Why?
Even more troubling is that MLS, a league that bills itself as the “most diverse league in North America” has not spoken up.
Currently, MLS rosters feature players from 61 different countries, with more than half of all MLS players coming from outside of the U.S. Two American-born MLS players even compete for the national teams of countries impacted by the travel ban. Steven Beitashour of Toronto FC plays for Iran and Justin Meram of Columbus Crew SC plays for Iraq.
Certainly, the current immigration ban, or a future expansion of it, could have a dramatic impact on MLS players even if none currently hail from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
When asked to comment on Trump’s Executive Order, though, MLS Executive Vice President of Communications Dan Courtemanche, said that MLS has “politely refrained from commenting” and would let me know if it decided to provide a statement in the future.
Wading into political waters is clearly troubling for the league. But an extremely diverse league with an equally diverse fan base cannot remain silent on this issue.
What message is MLS sending to its Muslim fans that the league will not comment on what we now know was explicitly intended to be a Muslim ban?
Now is not the time for MLS Commissioner Don Garber to bite his tongue. Sports have the unique ability to bring people together and heal the wounds created by polarizing politics. MLS should not miss this opportunity to stand out as a beacon of inclusion and tolerance for the world’s most diverse and popular sport.