Charlottesville hits close to home for TFC captain Michael Bradley

TFC captain Michael Bradley. (Chris Szagola/AP)

TORONTO – Like most right-minded Americans, the acts of domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis that led to the death of one woman and two state troopers in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend horrified Michael Bradley.

But for the Toronto FC captain, the ugly scenes of violence and racism that unfolded on the campus of the University of Virginia hit a little too close to home.

Although a native of New Jersey, Bradley spent a fair amount of his childhood in Charlottesville. He attended youth soccer camps in the picturesque Virginia town as a boy. He tagged along with his father Bob, a future coach of the U.S. national team, who coached college soccer, and was at one time an assistant under Bruce Arena at Virginia. Michael’s mother Lindsay was an All-America lacrosse player at UVA. Michael’s uncle Peter was an All-America goalie for the UVA men’s lacrosse team. And his 19-year-old cousin Beau is currently a freshman at UVA, and plays midfield for the school’s soccer team.

Beau was in Charlottesville this past weekend preparing for the new soccer season. The UVA team was staying in the same hotel as some of the white supremacists who converged on the city to spread their message of hate. The team quickly found new accommodations, and lucky for Beau he didn’t get caught in the crossfire of violence that erupted on the city’s streets. He’s safe and sound, thank goodness.

Others weren’t so lucky. Aside from the three deaths, 19 people were injured. What’s more, the vile racism and bigotry that unfolded provided another ugly chapter in recent U.S. history, and served as a sobering reminder of the racial hatred that continues to permeate portions of American society. That all of this took place in Charlottesville left an indelible mark on Bradley, someone who has a longstanding and intimate connection to the city.

“Charlottesville is a place that means a lot to my family. My mom [attended school] there. My dad coached there. My parents met there. My cousin goes there now. Growing up, I can remember driving down to watch my dad’s Princeton team play against UVA in Charlottesville. I can remember going to the UVA soccer camp in the summer. It’s a beautiful little town and to see everything that went on there for a few days was just terrible. It broke my heart,” Bradley told Sportsnet in a one-on-one interview.

In the aftermath of what transpired in Charlottesville, a national dialogue on a variety of important topics, including on the issue of racism and intolerance in the United States, have been taking place. Everybody has weighed in, including pro athletes. It doesn’t always go over so well when athletes lend their voices to the public discourse on social and political issues. The all-too-often refrain from some quarters is that sports shouldn’t be conflated with politics, that athletes should just “stick to sports.”

Bradley disagrees. Athletes not only have every right to let their voices be heard, they have a responsibility to do so, as does everybody else.

“I think it’s more than just athletes [who need to speak up]. It’s also the responsibility for everybody as citizens, as human beings to stand up for what’s right, to not be afraid to voice your opinion, to not be afraid to say when something is wrong. As athletes with the platform we have, with the role that we play in society, especially with the younger generation, it’s very important that we understand what’s going on, that we’re well informed and not be afraid to let our voices be heard,” Bradley offered.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney, who spent part of his childhood growing up in Virginia, also feels athletes should not be afraid to speak up.

“It’s an opportunity for us to take a leadership role in some way, shape or form,” Vanney stated.

Vaney said he was utterly disgusted by what happened in Virginia, and he wasn’t afraid to call it what it was, domestic terrorism, which is a term that U.S. President Donald Trump has conspicuously avoiding using. In that regard, the coach of TFC has come out stronger against what happened in Virginia than the leader of the free world – let that sink in for a second.

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TFC Pitchside - August 14 ft. Justin Morrow
Originally aired August 14 2017

People can’t afford to stand on the sidelines. They have to be active participants in the American democracy. That’s the only way it’ll work, Bradley explained.

“For me, one of the biggest takeaways over the last year in [the United States] is how important it is that every person plays a part in what goes on. You have to have people – young and old, from all different backgrounds – who are ready to take an active role in our society and what goes on. Only then do you have the ability to truly hold people accountable and making sure that things are moving forward in the right way,” Bradley said.

Bradley and his wife Amanda have two young children, Luca and Quinn Elle. Part of the challenge the couple faces is protecting their kids whenever something like Charlottesville happens. It’s a delicate balancing act between explaining what’s going on in the world, and starting to have those important conversations, but also ensuring they don’t rob their children of their innocence.

“My son is four. He doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, but obviously if we have the TV on, or if my wife and I are having a discussion, he’s at the age where he asks about everything. He’s very curious and inquisitive – he wants to know what you’re talking about, why is this happening, who’s that speaking. Part of the great thing about being a kid is your innocence and being able to enjoy growing up. As a four-year-old, we’re not ready to take that away from him,” Bradley explained.

“Having said that, given the world that we live in today, it’s so important that already in little ways we start to plant seeds, have conversations, make sure he understands that on a very basic level that we’re all the same. We love everybody; it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, it doesn’t matter where you come from, we’re all the same, we treat everybody the same way, and we respect everybody. Those are things that even a four-year-old can start to pick up on.”

Bradley considers this as one of his most important jobs as a father. It’s something he learned from his mom and dad, and he’s always cognizant of the fact that he’s setting an example for his young children with everything he does, both in deeds and words. He hopes other parents are doing the same, too.

“One of the things that my parents always did with me, even when I was young, they spoke to me in real ways. They had honest conversations with me. They found a great balance, but they didn’t talk to me like I was five years old. That’s certainly something for me as a parent that I think about a lot,” Bradley offered.

“There’s no role more important than mine as a father, and how I teach my kids, not just by what I say but how I act, how I handle myself in situations, is the most important thing that I’ll do. The more people understand that, the better off that we’ll be in the future.”

Sportsnet's Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues.