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Shaka Hislop: How football can drive the social justice message



Shaka Hislop is a founding member and honorary president of Show Racism the Red Card, a UK-based anti-racism education charity founded in 1995. A graduate of Howard University, Hislop played professionally as a goalkeeper for Reading, Newcastle, West Ham, Portsmouth and FC Dallas. He played internationally for Trinidad and Tobago international, representing his country at the 2006 World Cup. He now works as a pundit on ESPN FC Daily and hosts a new ESPN+ series, in which he and guests discuss racism in soccer and beyond.

My father was part of the Windrush generation and moved to England from Trinidad in the mid-1960s. One night, he and a friend were arrested by two white police officers, who planted a bunch of keys on them and started breaking car windows. They successfully sued the London Metropolitan Police for wrongful arrest and, with his part of the settlement, dad went back to Trinidad, met my mother and went through law school.

What I learned from my father was that, though the system wronged him, he got involved in trying to make it better. He became a lawyer, a judge, a part of the judicial system in Trinidad. Years later, those life lessons led me to get involved with Show Racism the Red Card. I was playing for Newcastle at the time and began going into schools to talk to young people about our cause.

How things have changed

Looking back 25 years, the language used around social justice was understated and soft, a reflection of how you had to phrase things, how you had to put things across. Back then, you were seen to be speaking out.

Today you can be more direct in what you have to say. Today, there is greater willingness from people, regardless of skin colour, to hear what we have to say. That reflects a greater understanding, but there is so much more to be done.

In February 2018, TV host Laura Ingraham said LeBron James should “shut up and dribble,” which reflected what we had been told and what we had been doing for generations, with zero positive impact. LeBron’s response effectively was to say that, while we will keep dribbling, we will not shut up and will use our platforms to push for equality and social change.

However, the shooting of Jacob Blake showed that, for all the protests, all the marches, all the kneeling, all the efforts, there was no change, so the next logical step for us as athletes was to stop dribbling. That is why in several sports athletes recently stopped playing as a form of protest. We must be prepared to take similar and meaningful action again. We owe it to our communities and to each other. We owe it to equality and to all of those who continue to be devalued.

What happened to Blake and to George Floyd made me angry. I know the statistics, my father lived it, but this somehow felt different. I tried to avoid watching the Floyd video for a long time. I was trying to figure why it impacted me in the way it did. My eldest daughter recently turned 24 and my son was 13 a few weeks ago.

They are facing the world on their own and having to deal with these incidents. When you are a parent, you think you can protect your kids from these things. When I started with Show Racism the Red Card, I genuinely felt like I could change the world. Some 25 years later, I feel as though I have let my children down; I did not deliver on that promise.

Now they have to go out into this world and, as a parent, you worry. Where do they go? What are they getting up to? What happens if they are pulled over by the police? My wife spoke to my son about what he has to do and how he has to behave and, just because his white friends do something, that does not mean their experience will be the same as his. Having that conversation with him at age 12 was tough.

When I walk into a department store, I always stop and look at the camera so they have a full picture of my face. I might walk around looking at nothing in particular, but I want to say that I have got nothing to hide; I’m not here with anything suspicious in mind. Things like that and keeping your hands visible might seem small, but they help explain what being Black in today’s society means.

In March, my family and I took part in a Black Lives Matter march in Boston. It was early in the pandemic so there were health concerns about taking part, but we took precautions and we felt so much better for participating. We were a part of the group — we were not leaders and just joined in the chants — and it felt much bigger than ourselves. It was uplifting to me, as someone who has been involved with a similar campaign for most of my adult life, to see the youth, the diversity and the energy in that crowd.



USMNT’s Weston McKennie says he fully supports players walking off the field if they receive racial abuse.

Players are speaking out, getting involved

There is a lot of risk in speaking out and you will be criticized, so I am full of admiration for the actions of Raheem Sterling, Weston McKennie, Jadon Sancho and others; players willing to put everything on the line.

If you do want to speak out, be honest. People respect and will respond to that. Recognise your target audience and find a unified voice; too often campaigns get lost in the vastness of the internet and drown each other out.

Not everyone is comfortable speaking in public or into a camera, though, which is why I am never critical of players who are not as vocal. To those in that category, look for other meaningful ways to support social justice. Financial contributions are one way, but joining in a march can be as important to extend the message that starts with kneeling before games, T-shirts and hashtags.

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Many clubs already do great things in their communities, while Show Racism the Red Card volunteers go into schools and judge art competitions and essay-writing contests. Sometimes, being there and showing support takes no more than your presence.

I know from my own experience that you spend so much time on your craft — and maybe you have a family at home — so they become your focus and it is tough to convince them to come out for after-school programs and deal with rush-hour traffic, but players need to make more of an effort to be involved, even if it is once a month or every two weeks.

What players can do is not just support, but drive what is being done. Whatever the issue is that is most important to you, showing up can have an impact. Football has started the conversation and raised awareness. It is the responsibility of players to continue that.



QPR chairman Les Ferdinand speaks about racism in football in the latest episode of “Show Racism the Red Card” on ESPN+.

What can be done at the top level?

As I was coming to the end of my career, I took courses to earn my coaching badges, but other Black players felt there was no point because they would not get interviews for open jobs. That always stayed with me. Many might consider going into coaching, but here were some incredibly talented footballers, who had seen it all and won it all, who refused to take that next step because they felt they would be overlooked for a backroom staff role or as a youth team coach.

The Rooney Rule, which was established in 2003 by the NFL as a policy that required teams to interview minority candidates for coaching positions, is a step toward dealing with the perception that many Black people in the game have; it would at least increase the pool of candidates and get more feet in more doors.

I do not believe that clubs or leagues should be told they must have a certain numbers of Black managers or assistants, but I do think that, at academy and youth team levels, for example, there can be a certain number. From there, those who do well will get more opportunities; that is how the pipeline can work effectively.

If there still is no great change, the conversation should be revisited, but this would at least be a start and could benefit the game as whole; beyond coaching and management, the knock-on effect could be more opportunities for Black people in boardrooms and front offices, at clubs and on league and national federation executive committees.

Football as a uniting force

As the most popular sport in the world, football is full of people who understand the game’s power and try to use it for their own means. One example of a competing agenda against social justice is the argument that there are few other occupations in which Black people can make so much money. Using that to discredit the anti-racism movement is very disappointing to hear and counterproductive to everything I believe.

Football is the perfect vehicle to drive anti-racism issues. Where else in the world is it possible to find someone from Trinidad and Tobago sharing a dressing room with someone from England, from Ireland, from Colombia, from Belgium? And all going out on the field on a Saturday, having to have each other’s backs. When I play well, I have to uplift somebody else and, when I am not, I know I can rely on someone else to carry my own burden. We all come off the field with the same result; where else can you get that? To me, that is the foundation of why sport is uniquely positioned.

Marching in Boston reminded me that this is about more than Black Lives Matter; it is about human rights and how uplifting one cause can benefit others. Just being involved is incredibly empowering and as much as the focus always falls upon the basic initiatives and their leaders, the lifeblood is in the people who simply show up.

They say that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” My message to those who love the game is simple: Whether you speak out or stay silent, show up and be a part of the movement.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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