Over the holidays we’ll be re-visiting Sportsnet staff writers’ favourite pieces from 2017. Today: John Molinaro explains why his piece on Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley’s thoughts on the acts of domestic terrorism that took place in Charlottesville, Va., over the summer topped his list.
Michael Bradley has rarely ducked a question from reporters during his time in Toronto. Ask the TFC captain a direct question, and he’ll give you a direct answer, no matter the topic.
Still, I was a little hesitant when I asked to speak to Bradley one-on-one after a team practice in mid-August to get his take on what happened in Charlottesville. For Bradley, 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-American lacrosse player at UVA, and his 19-year-old cousin Beau is currently a freshman at UVA, playing midfield for the school’s soccer team.
It was just days after the riots, and I thought that considering Bradley’s longstanding and intimate connection to Charlottesville, that the feelings would still be a bit too raw for him and that he wouldn’t want to talk about it.
As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. Bradley was eager to discuss it, and eloquently talked about what the city has meant to him, before moving on to discuss the role that athletes should play in speaking out about social and political issues.
“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 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 said.