I’m sure it’s happened on other occasions around the world, but the two times that stand out the most to me when a soccer player has scored a goal and taken an on-field microphone to blast a message have involved Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya—who implored Congress on Sunday to “do something now. End gun violence. Let’s go” after the weekend’s mass shootings—and U.S. winger Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe’s case happened at World Cup 2011 when she scored a goal, grabbed a mic and sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” The circumstance was certainly different from that of Bedoya, which happened in Washington D.C. during a nationally broadcast MLS game and instantly went viral around the world. But Rapinoe—especially present-day Rapinoe—and Bedoya do share this: A willingness to speak their mind and a refusal to stick to sports.
“I think [stick to sports] is the dumbest thing ever, to be quite frank,” Bedoya told SI.com in an interview on Tuesday. “Because as much as people want sports to be an escape from everyday life or politics, politics and sports have always been intertwined. Muhammad Ali. African American track-and-field athletes. All this stuff even now with people speaking out about the criminal justice system.
“Yes, we’re blessed with our athletic ability maybe, but before we’re athletes we’re human beings,” he continued. “We feel this stuff. We’re not robots. We’re affected by things, whether directly or indirectly. So it’s only normal at times that people get emotional and need to say something. You know me. I’ve been vocal in the past. I’ll never be the kind of guy that just sticks to sports.”
Let’s be clear: Bedoya’s in-game statement wasn’t even “political.” “End gun violence” is about right and wrong, in the same way that racism isn’t “political,” despite what cover-your-ass sports television executives might tell you.
"Seeing more thoughts and prayers bulls---. Words without actions are just worthless. America, it seems, is becoming a dystopian society. Do something!!! Enough!!!"
"I’m shouting at those hypocrites to get their s--- together. You want some plans. We can start with stricter background checks, red flag laws, making a registry for gun purchases, closing gun show loopholes, and taxing ammunition."
Ultimately, Bedoya got public support from the Philadelphia Union, his coach Jim Curtin, the MLS Players Union and the public and media, which ended up with him avoiding any punishment from MLS for speaking into the field microphone and being chosen the MLS Player of the Week (even though the league didn’t put him up for nomination).
To hear Bedoya tell the story, he didn’t plan to speak into the microphone on Sunday, not least because he rarely scores goals and never plans celebrations as a result. But on Saturday during the bus ride from Philadelphia to D.C., he spent most of the time reading about El Paso and exchanging messages about it with a group chat of his boyhood friends from home in South Florida. (Bedoya grew up near the location of the Parkland shooting and was vocal in the aftermath of that event as well.)
“Then you wake up Sunday morning and the first thing you see is another one,” he said regarding the mass shooting in Dayton. Before he left the locker room ahead of Sunday’s game, he said he prayed for the victims of the massacres and their families and communities. “I happened to score early,” he said, “so it was fresh in my mind.”
When Bedoya scored in the third minute of Philly’s 5-1 victory, he ran toward the part of the D.C. stands where Union fans had been during the teams’ U.S. Open Cup game last month. But this time he saw only one Union fan—teammate Ilsinho’s mother—and ran to hug her. His teammates soon arrived, but then Bedoya turned and saw the on-field microphone.
“Maybe it was a sign from God to do something right now, and that’s what came out in the moment,” he explained. “I think what I said was something that’s politically non-partisan. I think many Americans and people in general share the same sentiment and emotions and feelings. I didn’t blame anybody. I pointed at Congress, but Congress is made up of the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats and independents. It’s just something that we all feel in this moment that we need to do something to come together on this type of gun violence and mass shootings.”
Bedoya said he had no idea his message would go out to the wider world and receive so much attention. After the game, a police officer by the stadium tunnel said to him: “Hey, thank you for that. And just to let you know: You’ve gone viral.”
When Bedoya was still on the USMNT in 2017, I always thought it was interesting that he was road roommates and close friends with Geoff Cameron, who has been as vocal about his right-wing political support in the age of Trump as Bedoya has been about his left-of-center politics. I pitched them on doing a story about how they had remained friends and talked about those topics. Bedoya said yes, but Cameron refused to participate, so I bagged the idea.
But there’s clearly an aspect of Bedoya that tries to find some common ground at a divided time in this country. “You can still be friends with somebody who maybe doesn’t always have the same beliefs that you do,” he said on Tuesday. “Even in our group chat [with his boyhood friends] there are gun owners and people who are maybe a little more to the right or to the left. Some of these things I’ve talked about with Geoff: That we can come together and agree that what law-abiding gun owner is going to be against universal background checks or having to wait a week to own a gun if it means that everyone’s doing their due diligence and making sure guns aren’t getting into the wrong hands?”
In fact, Bedoya said he exchanged messages on Sunday with Cameron’s father, Scott. “There’s some things where we pretty much don’t see eye to eye, but we’re both open to finding a middle ground in a few of our arguments,” Bedoya explained. “But I still won’t tolerate what people say about distractions like video games and mental health [causing mass shootings] because every country has those same issues, but they don’t have the same type of gun violence that we have.”
Are there elements of Bedoya that resemble those of Rapinoe? He said he’d welcome the comparison. “Sure, she’s another one who’s been very outspoken,” he said. “I find her pretty cool and badass. I’m sure she’d be cool to hang out with too. Sometimes people try to make it a men versus women thing, but I like when people stand up for what they believe in, and she’s standing up for what’s right.”
When it comes to equal pay for the USWNT and USMNT, Bedoya’s views have moved more in line with Rapinoe’s in the last three years. In October 2016, Bedoya told the New York Times: “I think the equal pay for equal play argument is flawed, and it’s flawed because sports business is atypical. We’re not talking about a man and a woman doing the same work at a law firm and billing the same hours and bringing in the same revenue. In the sports world, the marketing, the advertising, the media sponsorships—it’s very lopsided towards the men at this point. It just is. As that changes, other things should change too, but right now that’s the reality, and pay should reflect that.”
This year, the USMNT players union has said publicly that it supports equal pay for the USWNT.
When I asked Bedoya, who has an economics degree from Boston College, about the USWNT’s fight for equal pay on Tuesday, he said: “I’m for equal pay, but it’s much more complex than just saying equal pay. We have totally different pay structures that we’ve negotiated for different reasons. There are so many factors. They get guaranteed salaries and health benefits. I think still there is something to be said about the revenue discrepancies that FIFA pays out [in World Cup prize money] to the federation. But you can make the argument that the federation should have it go into one pot and just disperse it. I’m for equal pay, but it’s complex.”
On Tuesday, Bedoya added that you can be certain he won’t stop voicing his opinions. “You’ve seen my Twitter feed,” he said. “I think being together with a Norwegian [his partner, Bea Hilland, with whom he has two children] and living abroad in Europe has really opened my perspective on a lot of things. I still believe America is the best and it’s a great country, but it can be blinded by the fact that a lot needs to be done to get better as a society. As a concerned citizen, my right in a democracy is to sometimes voice my opinion. I’m a human being first. I say what I think, and that’s it.”