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Alejandro Bedoya leads Union protest against gun violence: ‘This ain’t American exceptionalism’

‘It ain't freedom that we have to now look over our backs all the time,’ the Union’s captain said after his team wore T-shirts at Saturday's game with the message ‘END GUN VIOLENCE.’

Union captain Alejandro Bedoya (center left) and New England Revolution captain Carles Gil (center right) held a T-shirt that read "END GUN VIOLENCE" before the teams' game on Saturday.
Union captain Alejandro Bedoya (center left) and New England Revolution captain Carles Gil (center right) held a T-shirt that read "END GUN VIOLENCE" before the teams' game on Saturday.Read moreDave Silverman / New England Revolution

Before the Union’s 1-1 tie at the New England Revolution, Union players wore orange T-shirts with the message “END GUN VIOLENCE” during pregame warmups. During the game, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya wore a black-and-white armband with the same message.

The demonstration came in response to the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24 which left 21 people dead, including 19 children.

After the game, Bedoya spoke at length in a news conference about an issue on which he has long been a vocal campaigner. Here is the transcript of his remarks, edited slightly for clarity.

‘I hugged and kissed my kids’

First, Bedoya was asked what it meant to put forth the message that the team did.

I guess the easiest way I could put it is, some things are bigger than sports, you know? I want to just send my condolences to all those families that are grieving in Uvalde [Texas] and Buffalo [New York], all over this country, and whenever these things happen.

As soon as that happened [in Uvalde], it was so hard to process. I was told by my wife, who right before dinner that day just broke down in tears. I asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ And she told me, showed me her phone, the headline. And I lost my appetite for dinner right away.

I hugged and kissed my kids, held them real close, like many other Americans did. And I mean, yeah, I just can’t fathom what those families are going through, and what so many other families go through when dealing with this type of stuff. In the past, we’ve done other things, you know, initiatives to show our support — but also, to take a stance.

» READ MORE: Sports figures across Philadelphia and nationwide react to the Uvalde, Texas school shooting

I think when we talk about American exceptionalism, is this truly what it looks like? You know? I mean, the statement is, you know, maybe a bit of hyperbole. You’re never going to end it, of course. But I mean, there needs to be something done about this. We can’t keep standing idly by, just sending thoughts and prayers and seeing words. I’m sure they would have much rather had their kids, rather than prayers.

So I continue to pray for them, obviously, of course. But there needs to be something done with the people in power. We’re considered the — or some folks think — this is the greatest country in the world. Well, not with this type of gun violence, where we fear for our lives, where our kids have to learn how to hide behind desks, smear blood on themselves to fake-play dead.

I mean, I get so emotional just thinking about what they’re going through. And there’s plenty of solutions where both sides can come to the aisle and just make it harder — to end this type of stuff. And let me tell you something, the solution ain’t to arm more teachers. It ain’t more guns. And it’s not to make our schools, turn them into prisons. And it’s not fatherlessness. It’s not just mental health.

Sure, some of these people are voting against the funding of health insurance, and, you know, universal health care or mental health. This guy in Texas, the governor [Greg Abbott], he fought hard to lower the age limit [to buy certain kinds of guns] to 18 in Texas. What does an 18-year-old, why does he need to buy assault rifles, or an AR-15, an ArmaLite rifle? For what?

You cant even buy a case of beer until you’re 21. Rental car agencies, you can’t even rent a car until you’re 25 [without paying extra fees]. But an 18-year-old high school kid can go out and buy a freaking AR-15, two of them, and other hand guns and other things, and thousands of ammunition [rounds], and stuff like this? Come on, man. That’s not right. No.

This ain’t American exceptionalism. It ain’t freedom that we have to now look over our backs all the time.

I went two days ago, to a festival around the block in my neighborhood. And just fearing, like, going scared. Looking around, touching people, like, thinking, you know, exit strategies — where I can go run out to in case I hear something. And I’m sure many millions of Americans are feeling the same way when they enter a grocery store, movie theater, place of worship, schools.

» READ MORE: Alejandro Bedoya has a history of not sticking to sports

Trying to sell kids freaking bulletproof backpacks. Come on. It’s crazy. People need to stand up and take action. Fund community gun violence intervention programs. There’s a HR-8 bill sitting in the Senate, universal background checks, which millions of Americans — a majority of Americans — can get behind and support.

Close the ‘Charleston loophole.’ At the federal level, red flag laws. I mean, there’s so many initiatives that we can support and get behind, and get to people in power.

And that’s all we can do with this type of statement, you know?

I got the group together. We have a locker room full of international players. My teammates from Norway, from British [countries], a Danish guy — you know, all over the world. They come here and they can’t fathom, they don’t understand, the obsession and why these types of mass shootings happen in this country. Why do we have to live like this?

So that’s probably a longer answer than you wanted to hear, but I’m sick and tired of having to talk about this, man. It [stinks], it’s draining. And [what] we can do as players is just continue to use our platform to advocate for those in power to do something about it, take more action. Because what’s there right now, it ain’t working.

‘These things are bigger than sports’

Bedoya was then asked what it meant to him that many other teams and players around MLS have stood up this weekend to make statements on this issue.

I think it’s great. I think when you have a group of people coming together to take a stance on something that means more than football, you know — there’s people that tell us to shut up and dribble, or to stick to soccer, or whatever it is. I told you, I just said, these things are bigger than sports, than soccer.

I mean, we’re talking about just coming off a week where we saw 19 children gunned down, two teachers. It’s disgusting, it’s awful, terrible! So the human side of us just takes over, right? It’s just normal to act this way, to have this type of reaction.

And I support all my fellow teammates — you know, I guess you can call it like a brotherhood here in this league. I didn’t really speak to anybody else in the league before this. I’m sure in locker rooms, everybody, you know, at workplaces, this has obviously been talked about all week, right? I mean, how can you not talk about it?

» READ MORE: In 2019, Alejandro Bedoya yelled for Congress to ‘end gun violence’ during goal celebration

I have no idea what other teams did. I’m sure I’ll see later, you know, on social media, what other clubs might have done.

But for us, it was just simple. I got the group together, and I said, ‘Look, guys.’ They know where I stand on different things. We have an open dialogue in this locker room, we’ve created a great culture, and we just had a good conversation one morning about what we could do. Open floor, open dialogue. Different initiatives were on the table. And that’s what makes this locker room special.

I’m proud to be part of this group. And I didn’t care what anybody else told us. If it was the league, or the [Union’s] front office, or what anybody would say, if they were in or against it. What only mattered was what I felt was what this group discussed, and how strong we felt about at least doing this tonight. It was a little bit of our support that we could show, and like I said, we’re just going to continue using our platform.

‘He gets it done’

Bedoya was then asked who helped order the T-shirts and got the printing done.

I talked to our kit man, ‘B’ as we call him [Brandon Comisky, the Union’s equipment chief]. I always have a dialogue with him in terms of things that I’d like to do, either having an armband or T-shirts or whatever, and he gets it done.

So credit to him, and [on] such short notice as well, because of the turnover. Everybody knows supply chain issues these days is a problem, right? He was able to get it done.

Erica [Scheer of the Union’s PR staff] as well; Erica was helpful, too. She coordinated with ‘B.’

‘You have to stay optimistic’

Lastly, Bedoya was asked how difficult it is to keep up hope and belief that change can be achieved.

Yeah, I mean, you have to stay optimistic. And like I said, I’m always going to continue to use my platform. If you have any heart, or any human, I guess, feelings, I mean, how does this not hit you so hard? What’s happened in the last couple weeks and beyond?

You know, I can’t even tell you the number of mass shootings we’ve already experienced this year — and the level of gun violence that’s affecting all Philadelphians back at the local level, as well. Just heartbreaking.

And like I said before, our society, it can’t continue to live like this. We need real, real solutions and things that change and actionable actions, initiatives — like, now. Not wait a week and 10 days and everything goes back to a little bit of normalcy. And, you know, all this stuff goes away, and it’s the next headline and things like that. Like, now. Get something done.

I mean, it [stinks] that we always have to keep going back to this. It’s hard to stay positive, or to maintain that optimism. But I think with the new generation and everything, you know, we’ve just got to continue to use our voices and use social media and our platforms to continue to advocate for things to improve. Because as great of a country [as] America is, there’s a lot of things that need to improve. And this is a massive, massive issue.