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NYCFC, Jackie Robinson Foundation announce partnership to support Black Lives Matter initiatives

NYCFC's new alternate jersey for 2020.

NYCFC's new alternate jersey for 2020. Credit: Newsday / Ryan Gerbosi

New York City FC is partnering with a foundation bearing the name of a sports icon at the center of fighting racism in its own effort to battle racial injustice in soccer and beyond.

NYCFC and the Jackie Robinson Foundation announced a multi-year partnership Tuesday to “take action in support of Black Lives Matter initiatives in and around the five boroughs,” according to a news release.

“This is an incredibly important moment in our history,” NYCFC vice chairman Martin Edelman said in a statement. “And as the soccer Club of New York City it is our social responsibility and privilege to enhance and increase the opportunities available for young people of color and to support the critical effort to eradicate obstacles based on prejudice in our society. This grant represents the launch of our collaborative partnership as we work to continue to better lives through sports.”

According to the release, the partnership will include the club supporting a multi-year grant to sponsor a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar from the five boroughs. Other initial activities will focus on training and education, diversifying the pool of applicants for internship recruitment, creating staff volunteering and mentoring opportunities and involving the foundation in annual events “designed to celebrate, support and amplify the Black Lives Matter movement, including an annual Black Lives heritage home game.” 

In an email, club CEO Brad Sims said NYCFC will have Black Lives Matter messaging displayed prominantly at home matches when MLS play resumes this week. The club also will use its platforms and events to bring awareness to the foundation’s work, with NYCFC first team players joining “through ambassador programming and training and education.”

“The Jackie Robinson Foundation is excited to be engaged with the New York City Football Club, which has signed on to support our work in higher education and to partner around promoting diversity and [effecting] positive change in the community,” foundation president Della Britton Baeza said in a statement. “We look forward to connecting NYCFC to our impressive college Scholars and to the legacy of Jackie Robinson and our 98-year-old founder Rachel Robinson - and their lifelong efforts promoting equal opportunity.”

Edelman serves as a connection between the club and foundation. The NYCFC vice chairman is a founding board member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was created in 1973 by Rachel Robinson to continue the legacy of her husband, who broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

“I was privileged to work with Jackie Robinson in his career as a courageous civil rights leader as well as business leader – focused on promoting opportunity for Black Americans,” Edelman’s statement read. “It has been an honor to work with Rachel Robinson, an iconic leader of improving educational opportunities for young Black Americans, to create the Jackie Robinson Foundation. To be part of the opportunity to join NYCFC and JRF in the campaign against racism follows in that tradition.”

MLS players largely have been united in their support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May death of George Floyd, including NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was named a board member of the new Black Players for Change group in June. The group led a unified protest ahead of the opening game of the MLS is Back Tournament that month, standing in silence with fists raised for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck before his death. All games in the tournament featured players kneeling in protest before the opening kickoff.

In the league’s first game back in a home market, however, kneeling during the national anthem by FC Dallas and Nashville SC players was met with a few boos from the Dallas crowd, something Dallas defender Reggie Cannon called “incredibly frustrating.”

While NYCFC has been forced to address reports of hate in the Yankee Stadium bleachers in past years, the partnership is the latest piece of the club's public campaign against systemic racism since Floyd's death. In June, NYCFC released a series of 11 action-oriented commitments to combat racism, including creating an internal diversity and inclusion council, setting a goal of 2,000 combined volunteer hours and observing Juneteenth and Election Day as official paid holidays. In an email, Sims said the partnership will help the club fulfill those commitments.

“One of the driving forces behind this partnership was to gain access to experts in this space to ensure all of our actions are introduced in a meaningful, impactful and authentic way," Sims wrote. 

On Tuesday, the club appeared to complete initiative No. 7 — “launch an ongoing partnership and support an NYC-based charitable organization that focuses on investing in the future of minority youth across the City.”

"Internally, we are excited and inspired by the progress we’ve already begun to make," Sims wrote. "Our NYCFC Diversity and Inclusion internal working group has been meeting regularly and we have sub-groups working on each action item to ensure we maintain momentum and this remains a top priority at the Club. We are really pleased with the enthusiasm, passion and commitment to diversity and equality our NYCFC family continues to demonstrate. We still have lots more work to do, and many of these commitments are long-term, but we are committed to ensuring they are executed properly with our partners at the Jackie Robinson Foundation.”

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