Just shy of a month ago, a video out of Minneapolis went viral. The video showed George Floyd having a police officer kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd would die, Officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers charged with murder, and a city would erupt into a protest over police brutality and the mistreatment of African-Americans in the current criminal justice and political systems. Come nightfall, protests would turn violent, with a police precinct burning down, among other businesses.
In the aftermath of the events happening with the protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, a local semi-professional soccer club, Minneapolis City SC, has come out to support the community in difficult times for the city.
“I think it’d be fair to say it’s been tense [since George Floyd was killed],” MPLS City midfielder Aidan O’Driscoll said. “ People are grieving and people are angry, and rightly so. On top of that, everything with COVID complicates things as well.”
“It’s been hard for people in Minneapolis to have gone through what the city has gone through and to see what happened to George Floyd,” he continues. “I think it was really hard for people.”
In the case of MPLS City, they maintain an apolitical stance and don’t make any calls for political reform. However, they maintain a stance of calling for justice when needed and standing for human rights. There’s a shared feeling among club employees that the club doesn’t need to take a public stance on policy and politics.
“At the end of the day, we’re a soccer club,” MPLS City General Manager Adam Pribyl said. “Some of these are my personal feelings, and because in the past, I’ve been an educator, I’ve been an athletic director at a high school that’s fairly diverse. I’ve got pretty strong feelings on these issues. But at the same time, we’re a soccer club, and so I think that a lot of people talk about soccer and sports in general can be a really great way to bring people together, so there’s some power that sports can have. At the same time, we’re a soccer club, and we’re gonna continue to be a soccer club.”
“But outside of that, obviously we stand for equality because that’s a human rights issue,” he continues. “I don’t think it’s our place, as a soccer club, to get involved in politics, specifically. I do think that racial equality, is a human rights issue, and everyone can get behind that. But at the same time, we’ve all gotten that email from a random company about their take on their response to the pandemic. No one needs that. No one needs Minneapolis City to come out and say ‘this is our stance on everything.’ We will stand for equality and we will continue to support our community. But a stance from a club perspective is just that we’re a soccer club and we’re about our community, and that means everyone within it.”
While the club maintains a stance away from politics, it has led a large campaign of community outreach. This, however, is not something that has happened recently. The club has always had a policy of being part of the community. The club has led food drives, community cleanups and helped the local businesses and community.
“We’ve led community efforts in food donations and good donations,” Pribyl said. “We’ve done delivery to homes that have asked for it. We do pickups. So we’ve really helped our community the last four weeks.”
“We want to be a representation of Minneapolis and a representation of the people of Minneapolis,” club co-founder Dan Hoedemann said. “The guys that play with us, they’re all local guys and they come from a lot of different socio-economic, racial and ethnic, and other backgrounds. We stand in solidarity with them, and that means that, right now, we’re standing in solidarity with our Black players. It’s important that justice and human rights are held up and we’re gonna stand with them for that, so we’ve made statements to that effect, too.”
“But we’re also a soccer club,” he continues. “So for us, it’s been ‘how do we find a way to show we’re kinda like brothers in the team’? All of us, the guys call it ‘the brotherhood,’ they’ve been calling it for years. There is this real cohesion, so we want to support ‘the brotherhood,’ that’s important.”
“But we also want to make sure we’re supporting our neighbors too, in an appropriate capacity,” Hoedemann continues. “We don’t have a club position on any sort of political thing. There’s no club position on defending the police and all that. We’re here to do soccer things, but certainly on human rights and the importance of justice and including the fair treatment of all races, and particularly Black players, Black Lives, that’s a thing that we think is important. But our actions are much more around how we can help people impacted.”
Minneapolis: Epicenter for a Movement
The killing of George Floyd has sparked national, and even international calls for change in the criminal justice system. Mass gatherings and protests have been happening in all 50 states, as well as overseas. The protests call for an end to systemic racism and a reform to the criminal justice system.
“[The international protests have] been inspiring in a lot of ways,” Hoedemann said. “I moved around a lot as a kid. I was living in LA during Rodney King and during OJ, and the difference is really palpable.”
“This is a multi-generational, multi-racial push for justice and push for change and feeling that now is the time,” Hoedemann continues. “It’s different here and now than it was back in the ‘90s in LA. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. Cell phone video making this impossible to ignore, also where it happened. I like living in Minnesota, I like Minnesotans and I think one of the things in terms of a protest and how they’re continuing and the desire for change shows well on Minnesotans who, over time, I think have become more aware of the opportunities to improve their community, improve the society, be more inclusive and all of that. My hope is that, because of that, because there’s great clarity in what was happening, I think there’s great clarity in the protests, and that allows it to be inspirational.”
“I have a lot of strong feelings on it,” Pribyl said. “We had Jamal Clark in 2015, Philando Castile not long after that, and now George Floyd. And frankly, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and I was just reading that there’s been a couple other killings now in Florida and Atlanta. All these things, in themselves, they’re terrible, awful things. But what they’ve done is they continue to shed light on these larger issues. Personally, I just hope that these are not one-off protests that people do for an Instagram like, that there’s sustained community efforts that the people fight for equality because it’s not an item that’s gonna bring in money. So largely, politically, I think it goes untouched because there’s conflicting interests, and there’s a lot that could be said there.”
“I believe that the people are gonna have to make any changes that have to forcibly happen through peaceful protests,” Pribyl continues. “I just hope it continues. It has to continue because it’s been going on now for too many years where there’s been people that have been marginalized, and systemic racism that has taken away opportunities from deserving people. Until we see that, I just hope it doesn’t stop.”
The praise for protests doesn’t stop with the people in charge of the club but also incorporates the players.
“[When I see the protests, I feel] hopeful,” O’Driscoll said. “This has happened so many times before, and even in Minneapolis, it’s happened so much. Philando Castile. Jamal Clark. It feels different this time, just on the scale of the reaction and how it has spread internationally. Both my parents are from Ireland, and they were super pumped when they saw that there was a protest going on in Dublin, which is crazy to think that it all began in Minneapolis. It does make me feel hopeful that there will be some substantial change going forward.”
With Minneapolis City SC, there’s a sense of pride in representing the city and the club. Due to the season being suspended, the protests have given a new opportunity to represent the city and the club. There’s a hope that the efforts to help the community will bring the club together and closer to the city.
“I hope it will, and I think it will bring us closer as a team,” O’Driscoll said. “It already has us in closer contact with the city of Minneapolis. It’s such a huge part of being part of Minneapolis City is that you’re connected to this team. It’s a Minneapolis-based club, we don’t have guys in for the summer and put them up in host families. These are all Minneapolis guys playing for this team. So it is already a tight-knit group, but I think it’ll strengthen that connection with the city.”