If there's one thing that's stood out in the relatively brief time that Weston McKennie has been part of the focal point of the U.S. men's national team picture, it's that he has leadership qualities.
He's thoughtful and speaks with perspective that goes beyond his 21 years. He appears to have a strong grasp on the moment. So it should be little surprise, then, that he made a simple, yet poignant statement in Saturday's clash between his Schalke and Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.
In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which has restoked the fires of racial imbalance in America and resulted in protests around the country, McKennie donned an armband halfway around the world that read "Justice for George."
If there weren't a global pandemic, and the international soccer calendar had not been altered drastically, then the Texas native likely would have been in his home state representing the national team in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals this week. The opportunity to perform that act in a national team uniform on U.S. soil is surely something that would have resonated. As it stands, doing so in Germany was plenty powerful.
"We have to stand up for what we believe in and I believe that it is time that we are heard!" McKennie tweeted after the match.
“I felt like it was my responsibility and my duty, especially being American, and with the situation going on in America,” McKennie told Forbes. “And I felt like it was the best and biggest platform that I could use to spread awareness. Of course, maybe some people don’t agree with it, but that’s their opinion and for me, I felt like it was my duty and my responsibility to go out to show justice for George Floyd. This is a problem that’s been going on way too long.
“We're the only league that's playing right now, all eyes are on the Bundesliga. So I felt like there's no better way and no better time than now.”
McKennie said that video of the officer, Derek Chauvin, killing Floyd "was sickening."
“Many of my teammates here saw it and are also disgusted. It's something that touches you in a different way. It's too much and it needs to be brought to attention. It needs to stop.
“There are too many social injustices and too many police brutality incidences where they say ‘it's an accident’. An accident happens once or twice, but when it's happened so many times like it has now, it can't be overlooked anymore.”
McKennie's voice is an important one, and with sports largely shut down across the globe and athletes often using their platforms on the court, field, ice or whatever playing surface to speak out, it spoke volumes of McKennie to see him do so. Despite his young age, he has plenty of fans and peers looking up to him. That includes U.S. veteran Jozy Altidore.
McKennie wasn't alone in speaking out, of course. After he wore his armband, Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi displayed T-shirts with messages of support, and Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram—whose father, French great Lilian, has been and continues to be a noted voice in the fight against racism—took a knee after scoring a goal, coming up with on-field actions of their own.
All four are now subject to potential discipline from the German federation, which has a rule against players engaging in political demonstrations on the field. It would be the height of ignorance for the DFB to sanction the players for their actions. Surely there's wiggle room here. Some things are bigger than sports.
"There’s a rule in the league that you can't make political statements," said McKennie, who says he was asked by the referee to take the armband off but refused. "But I mean, if you really, really look at this as a political statement, then I don't know what to tell you."
The head of the DFB's Control Committee, Anton Nachreiner, told German outlet Kicker: "In the course of the next few days, these incidents will be dealt with and the facts examined accordingly."
The facts are four young men sending a message about an injustice and setting an example for their fans and followers around the world.
Outside of the Bundesliga, a number of other players, including PSG's Kylian Mbappé, took to social media to do so, with their leagues not back in action but their voices still carrying clout.
The movement continued across Europe on Monday, with Trent Alexander-Arnold among the Liverpool players posting a photo of the club, united, taking a knee around the center circle at training.
One thing that all of these players have in common is their age range. They're all 22 or younger, they've all witnessed as generations before them have failed to eradicate systemic racism and they've all had enough after another incident of police taking an innocent life.
The actions took the spotlight of the Bundesliga's fourth set of matches since the league resumed. The Danish Superliga is also back underway, meaning the return to action of a few of the USA's under-23 men's national team talents. Hobro's Christian Cappis and Emmanuel Sabbi both started and played the full 90 in a 1–0 win over Randers on Monday, while Nordsjaelland's Jonathan Amon was omitted from his club's re-opener on Friday. There's also the return of the Austrian Bundesliga this week, after Jesse Marsch's RB Salzburg captured the Austrian Cup on Friday.
As for the action on the field in the German Bundesliga, here's how U.S. internationals fared (all stats via WhoScored):
McKennie, Schalke fall to Sargent's Werder Bremen
On the field, Schalke was second-best again, falling for a fourth straight time and tumbling into 10th place in the Bundesliga after a 1-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Werder Bremen.
McKennie was taken off after 55 minutes, and he wasn't particularly sharp on the day, completing 10 of his 15 passes from the midfield, hitting on one of his three long balls and firing two shots. As stated above, though, his contributions on the day go well beyond his sporting performance.
On the other side, Josh Sargent started again for Werder Bremen, and while he didn't factor into the scoring and didn't put any shots on or near the frame, he had an overall positive day. He drew a team-high five fouls and made a couple of key passes in a vital win, which brings his club to the cusp of safety, though there's still work to be done–for both individual and team.
Could Richards break through for Bayern?
Chris Richards is one of the top young defenders in the U.S. player pool, and he's currently playing for Bayern Munich's reserves and youth team in the 3. Liga. The 20-year-old scored his third goal of the season on Saturday, an 89th-minute winner against Ingolstadt II.
The question remains: may he earn his first-team debut this season? If Bayern Munich can put away the Bundesliga with time to spare–and it appears to be on course to do just that–it would figure to be quite feasible for Bayern to expand its squad, rest some regulars and give some younger players a look. Richards would qualify, and it's worth monitoring as Bayern's title-clinch gets closer.
Reyna active in late Dortmund cameo
Giovanni Reyna didn't get in on the scoring binge, but he was still an active part of Dortmund's late barrage against Paderborn, with BVB's lead growing from 3-1 to 6-1 after he came on for the final 10 minutes on Saturday.
Reyna put a shot on target and completed all five of his passes after entering the match, though the wait for his first Bundesliga goal continues. Dortmund is back in action on Saturday against Hertha Berlin, where Reyna will hope to have a bit more playing time with which to work.
Brooks, Wolfsburg suffer setback against Chandler's Eintracht Frankfurt
Wolfsburg suffered a setback in its quest to reach the Europa League qualifying rounds (a sixth-place finish would do that), falling to Eintracht Frankfurt at home.
John Brooks went the full 90 minutes at center back in defeat, passing at a substandard 76.3% clip (29-for-38, 3-for-6 on long balls), though he did win five aerial duels and make four tackles.
His teammate, 19-year-old Ulysses Llanez, didn't dress for the match after making the matchday squad for the first time against Bayer Leverkusen.
Timmy Chandler, meanwhile, went the distance on the right wing for the victors.
Adams helps RB Leipzig finish off Cologne
Tyler Adams came on for the final 31 minutes of RB Leipzig's 4-2 win over Cologne Monday, which allowed RBL to keep pace with the rest of the top five in the league, with all of the other four clubs winning over the weekend as well.
Adams was a tidy 18-for-19 passing and helped restore some calm in a second half that had devolved into a wide open contest with three goals between the 50th and 57th minutes. Adams also drew three fouls in his time on the field.