WASHINGTON — After scoring the opening goal in the Union’s game at D.C. United on Sunday, team captain Alejandro Bedoya took the opportunity to send a message 12 blocks up nearby South Capitol Street.
Bedoya ran over to a field microphone on the sideline and shouted: “Hey, Congress: Do something now! End gun violence! Let’s go!"
The 32-year-old midfielder grew up in Weston, Fla., about 15 minutes from the site of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In last season’s opening game, played a few weeks after the incident, Bedoya wore a shirt with the message “MSD STRONG” under his jersey.
In 2019, there have been over 250 mass shootings in the United States, including this weekend in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas.
Bedoya has long been as outspoken about politics as he has been about soccer. A son of Colombian immigrants, he called out Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Twitter in 2017, and in the same year took aim at President Trump’s denigration of Muslims. Bedoya has also been a longtime champion of greater diversity in American soccer, famously clashing with U.S. women’s team star Abby Wambach over the subject in 2015.
After the game — a 5-1 win that kept the Union in first place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference — Bedoya had plenty more to say.
“I’m not going to sit idly and watch this stuff and not say something. Before I’m an athlete, before I’m a soccer player, I’m a human being first,” he said. “Something’s got to be done. It’s gotten to the point where it’s, we’ve almost become numb to it. That’s a big problem.”
Bedoya said he was inspired to make a statement by friends in South Florida. He said the group’s political views are mixed, but on the subject of gun violence, there was “a bipartisan effort. … We realized that something’s got to be done.”
He paraphrased a note he got from one of those friends: “You can maybe do something and have more strength than some of us have.”
Bedoya said he is sometimes afraid of what might happen after he drops his kids off at school in the morning near their home in Fishtown. He hears when the school goes on lockdown because of shootings nearby.
“Let’s start somewhere, you know, like universal background checks, or red-flag laws or, you know, taxing and making ammunition expensive, so if you’re going to go on something like this, I mean, you’re not going to be able to maybe afford it, or it’s going to make you think twice,” he said. “More guns is not the frickin’ answer.”
Bedoya had some choice words for lawmakers, too.
“Politicians are politicians, you know — they’re backed by lobbyists and by corporations," he said. “There’s things that need to be done to to change the way this government is being run. … Why should any civilian be able to have a magazine that has 100 rounds and can shoot whatever number of rounds in less than a minute, you know?"
He finished with a wish that the issue becomes bipartisan.
“Become united and make something happen,” he said.
Bedoya’s plea drew universal praise from the Union’s locker room, starting with manager Jim Curtin. The manager also isn’t shy about politics: two years ago, he publicly backed Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe’s decisions to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality.
“I’m on Alejandro’s team in the Philadelphia Union, and I’m on Alejandro’s team in support of his comments on gun control,” Curtin said. “It’s outrageous. Things need to change in this country for sure, and I’ll support anyone who speaks their mind and is intelligent and informed on it. That’s what Alejandro is.”
Star midfielder Marco Fabián, who has traveled the globe with Mexico’s national team and clubs including Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, was just as forceful.
“I support how he thinks, and I’m one of the guys with him,” he said.
Up in the broadcast booth, Alexi Lalas watched the moment in the game unfold as he called the game for a national TV audience for Fox Sports 1.
“I don’t look at it as political, I look at it as social in a moment when our country is, regardless of your political affiliation or anything like that, collectively sad for the loss of life,” Lalas said. “He does have a really rich and therefore, I think, nuanced type of history that he is drawing from. And I think he thinks about things that human beings think about, rather than just what soccer players think about, or athletes think about."
Lalas said he wouldn’t be surprised if Bedoya is fined by MLS, for what he called the “procedural” reason of expressing a political view in pubic.
The league has struggled in recent times when caught at the intersection of politics and sports: it has been criticized for not banning alt-right fans of New York City FC from that team’s games but it has barred displays of the Iron Front logo that for decades stood as an anti-Nazi symbol and is now used by anti-fascist groups that the league deems too extreme.
Bedoya said if he’s fined, he’ll pay it and keep talking.
“Fine me if they want. You know what? I’ve got to make a stand,” he said."Like I said, I’m a human being before I’m an athlete. … My kids, man, it’s scary to think about what’s what can happen at any time right now in this day and age here in America."