Soccer For All

Colorado Rapids forward Kei Kamara: Player-led protests are "for the human race"

Kei Kamara - Colorado Rapids - closeup - v3

When five Week 7 games were postponed Wednesday night across MLS, one player experiencing it first-hand was Colorado Rapids forward Kei Kamara. He’s one match away from 350 regular-season appearances – an admirable milestone – and their trip to FC Dallas could've been a celebratory occasion.

But Kamara found his mind elsewhere in the buildup to their 8:30 pm ET kickoff, with the national attention captivated by protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A player-led movement caused NBA playoff games to be postponed, as well as WNBA and MLB ones, as athletes took a stand around racial equality.

Similar conversations ensued across MLS, and Kamara recalled the real-time evolution during Thursday’s episode of Extratime.

“We’re not even thinking about the game, and if we have to go out there to play the game we want to be 110 percent focused,” Kamara said. “We don’t want to just go step on and say we just want to do this because obviously we have to get paid or we’re worried about getting fined and all that. 

“No, our minds [weren’t] there and we felt like it was a time for us to take a stand as both teams together with the players and relay the message to our coaches in saying this is what us as a team – I had a conversation with my locker room and the other guys on Dallas had a conversation with their locker room and we relayed it to our coaches – that this is the decision we’re taking and we really don’t feel 100 percent that we want to step on the field [Wednesday] night.” 

Certain members of society might feel aggrieved that games weren’t played, Kamara said. The COVID-19 pandemic is still rampant, and events like the recently-completed MLS is Back Tournament provided a minor escape (entertainment-wise) from the public-health crisis. But how Kamara sees it, a disruption to regularly-scheduled programming is minor in the grander scheme of everything.   

“We’ve been trying to say during the pandemic and all the riots going on, 'Oh we want live sports back.' And live sports did come back, but live sports coming back is a distraction to what’s really happening,” said Kamara, who’s fifth on the all-time MLS scoring chart with 128 goals. “Sports is what stimulates our mind, because you can go through a hard day at work or go through different things, but when you come home you flip on the TV, watch ESPN or FOX or whatever it is and you get distracted a little bit. 

“So I’m really happy and I’m glad with the rest of the players in MLS and what we decided to do [Wednesday] with not playing and shutting that screen off for people to not have that moment to stimulate their mind and be distracted by what’s really the main problem that’s going on.”

As for desired actions across MLS, Kamara highlighted communication and support from Commissioner Don Garber. On Thursday evening, the league opened an investigation into allegations made in The Athletic’s recent story that alleged a history of racially-charged remarks by Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen. Hansen earlier on Thursday criticized players for choosing not to play as part of the ongoing movement to end police brutality and systemic racism in the United States.

Kamara called the Hansen situation a “disgrace” and asked owners to have conversations with their respective teams. Speaking with Extratime co-host Charlie Davies, his former teammate with the New England Revolution, Kamara referenced how they used to see owner Robert Kraft around the locker room. Now, Kamara hopes for the same thing with Rapids’ owner Stan Kroenke.

“I would love to meet our owner, I would love for our owner to come in and have a conversation with the rest of the team and tell us the support that he has before even going out to the public and saying this is what I’m thinking of my team, these are the decisions,” Kamara said. “Whether it’s good or bad, I would love for the owners of different teams to walk into the dressing rooms, locker rooms and have a conversation with their team so they can really tell them where they’re at, how they stand, how you really feel.”

Whatever comes next, Kamara called on people to understand the broader context. He referenced the example of FC Dallas right back Reggie Cannon being subjected to racist attacks and death threats after his team kneeled during the national anthem of an Aug. 12 game against Nashville SC, but thinks the issue is much bigger.

“It’s not just about my name, Kei Kamara, or Reggie Cannon or Colin Kaepernick,” Kamara said. “This is something bigger, it’s for the human race. It’s not just for today, it’s for the future, our kids and the people after that.”