On Wednesday night -- just before Orlando City SC kicked off against Inter Miami CF to open the MLS is Back Tournament -- more than 100 of Major League Soccer’s Black players took the field at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex and stood alongside one another.
For eight minutes and 46 seconds -- a testament to George Floyd’s memory and a reminder of the circumstances of his killing -- fists were raised and heads were bowed.
The field was silent. The message was loud.
It was the first on-field statement from members of the newly-formed Black Players for Change, a group of Black MLS players focused on bridging the racial equality gap.
It was also the first of what have been several displays of solidarity from MLS clubs and players alike since the MLS is Back Tournament began. The Philadelphia Union donned jerseys bearing the names of Black victims of police brutality on Thursday morning. Montreal Impact head coach Thierry Henry kneeled for the first eight minutes and 46 seconds of his side’s match against New England on Thursday night.
“It’s a powerful movement. We’re not going to stop.”
Dwight White puts it succinctly.
White -- a Chicago-based artist and former Northwestern football student-athlete -- exhibits a unique perspective on the intersection of art and athletics and the propensity for each to bring about social change.
“There’s really good art that tells a story and has a message, and there’s art that’s there to please the eye,” he said. "It communicates something. It makes people feel something. That’s why art is important. When you combine sport and art, I think it can be a powerful thing. It’s two things that people pay a lot of attention to in one place.”
The 26-year-old has embedded that perspective into a custom design for the Fire, one ornamented symbolically by the markers of today’s anti-racism movement: There’s the unmistakable raised fist of Black Lives Matter. The chants cried out in unison amid protests the world over. The expressions of the Black community’s continued push for equality.
When the Fire take the field on Tuesday morning against the Seattle Sounders (8 a.m. CT | ESPN, ESPN Deportes), captain Francisco Calvo will pull an armband donning White’s artwork onto his sleeve.
“I put a lot of my own thoughts on paper as if I was taking notes,” White said of the concept. “I’ve had so many conversations over the last couple months with my peers -- whether they’re African American, Latino, across all races -- and I’ve been able to hear peoples’ experiences with what’s currently happening in the world -- peoples’ curiosity, peoples’ togetherness. There’s also a huge divide. That was really my entire purpose when I first got the concept, was how can I capture a lot of those thoughts and those emotions that I’ve heard across a variety of people and bring it all together into one circular -- or oval -- design.”
While White’s design will be featured on the captain’s armband during the MLS is Back Tournament, it will also become a jersey patch adorned by the Fire first team upon resumption of the 2020 regular season later this summer.
In his own words, White describes the thought and meaning behind the elements contained within the piece:
- On ‘Equal’: “Right at the top. That’s really what we’re discussing today. That’s what we’re fighting for. Nobody’s saying any particular life is better than another. It’s that all lives should be equal. That’s one thing I feel like is a misinterpreted message a lot. I thought it was important to be there.”
- On the fist: “It started with the fist in the middle. It’s recognizable, and that is important if you’re doing something for a movement or a cause. It has to be a pretty universal type of piece in there that grabs attention. I wouldn’t have had to write “Black Lives Matter” on this patch for you to know what it’s about. I wanted the symbol to be recognizable and to stand out as the centerpiece. That fist has been a powerful element in history, so that was one piece.”
- On the flag: “The Fire being local to Chicago, I incorporated the Chicago flag at the wrist. I just thought that would be a nice add for it to be a kind of ‘home grown’ patch.”
- On ‘No Justice, No Peace’: “Some people have their own interpretation of that, but for me it just means that now is not the time to be silent until justice starts to be properly served. It is an un-peaceful environment in America right now, but in a way it’s inspiring to me - especially when you see allies that also have a lack of peace right now. We shouldn’t be at peace with the current state of America.”
- On ‘Togetherness’: “Speaking to a variety of people, I’ve been able to wrap my mind around that it’s not just Black people or one race fighting right now, it’s a variety. Black Lives Matter, people are rallying behind that idea and also waking up to other things. Also in the LGBTQ community. It’s togetherness. We’re all supporting each other as allies.”
- On ‘People Power’: “That really is just all about there being power in the people.”
- On ‘Love’: “Pretty straightforward (laughs).”
- On ‘Black Lives Matter’: “The Black Lives Matter that I did right on there…The one thing that I did add to it was put three lines under the ‘B’. One thing I read was that in text and copy going forward in news and media, the ‘B’ in ‘Black’ will start to be capitalized like we capitalize other races. Usually only ‘African American’ is capitalized, but there are literally Black lives. I thought that was something that was pretty powerful.”
- On ‘History’ and ‘2020’: “I just think 2020 is a historic year. Not only because of this movement, but because of a lot of things happening and the way the world has been shook. Things are taking a turn, and we’re all adjusting and adapting.”
- On the lightning bolt: “That’s to culture. It’s a powerful movement. We’re not going to stop. A lot of times when these things happen, they grab attention quickly and people rally and it kind of dies after a week. What’s important this time is that people stay energized and motivated and do what they can in whatever capacity they can. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, just staying awake and active.”
- On ‘Listen’: “That’s another thing you’ve heard a lot. ‘When you don’t know, just listen and learn.’ That’s a huge component of how to drive change.”
- On the ‘X’: “A historic symbol throughout history as well. Dating back to Malcolm X, in the Black community a lot of us have used the ‘X’ as a power symbol in the past.”
- On the crown: “I incorporate crowns into a lot of my work to symbolize ‘kingdom’ and ‘kings’ and ‘royalty’ especially in a lot of Black males. I try to shine them in a better light. Also, it’s in the same style as the Chicago Fire. I wanted to make sure I incorporated that element.”
“It’s not for me, it’s for the Black community.”
Injecting work with meaning is a foundational element of White’s artistic approach. Eliciting emotion and encouraging conversation are always the goal for the Texas native, who, by his own account, was "brought to Chicago to be ‘reborn’ an artist.”
“During times like this, I’ve been trying to do whatever I can to do artwork that’s impactful," he said. “It was really great to hear from one of Chicago’s own organizations, reaching out to a local artist -- a local Black artist at that -- to design something that could have meaning and potentially have an impact on the team and also its fans.”
Outside of his design for the Fire, White’s work has been featured in galleries in Chicago and around the country. In May, he completed a mural in Chicago’s Near West Side as part of the Murals for Medical Relief project, which aimed to raise $50,000 to support medical workers in the fight against COVID-19.
While his Fire patch design may be small by comparison, its message is undoubtedly big.
“It’s not for me, it’s for the Black community,” he said. “It’s for the American population, to show that there are organizations out here that aren’t just talking about ‘We support Black lives.’ You’re doing something. It gives me a sense of pride and connection to the Chicago Fire organization, which I think a lot of my fellow Black community in Chicago will feel that as well as you share stories like this.”