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Juneteenth, Sports, and the Collective Consciousness

By CHRIS BUSEY, VP, DEI & Community Impact, United Soccer League, 06/19/24, 9:00AM EDT


There are moments of convergence, whereby the playing fields and the courts become mirrors of our national consciousness.

For example, in 2020, amidst all the upheaval of the pandemic and the visceral response to George Floyd’s murder, many of us longed for the diversion of sports while also being reminded that sports are not mutually exclusive from the ebbs and flows of society. Athlete activism, in the form of protests against racial injustice, signaled this very paradox. Then, as now, proved how sports is not immune to the frailties – and the possibilities – of the double helix of democracy and, by extension, our definitions of freedom.

In retrospect, it’s unsurprising that the events of 2020 led to a more public acknowledgement of Juneteenth, a long-celebrated holiday among U.S. African Americans, taking on a different cloak of symbolism.

On the heels of global protests and loud, open discussions about the lexicons of freedom, justice, and, to some extent, liberation, Juneteenth emerged from the Black communities and became something bigger. It was finally recognized and celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time on June 19, 2021.

While local community gatherings continued to serve as sites of joy and celebration of such a defining moment in African American and U.S. history, the sports world, naturally, rose to the occasion. Leagues, teams, players, and fans spoke up in the form of social media campaigns, educational projects, theme nights, and various other community-driven engagements.

Three years later, the social landscape has changed. But the sports world must remain attentive to that moment of national consciousness and continue to celebrate Juneteenth and all that it stands for. In that moment in 2020-21, we, regardless of background, utilized our collective platforms to not only commemorate a historic holiday, but also steer our national consciousness towards the dual power of both listening and speaking up. We cannot stop. Ever. Because the impact of any moment in the past is only as profound as the lasting change it inspires in the future.

About Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also referred to as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, or Second Independence Day, acknowledges the official date – June 19, 1865 – in which General Order no. 3 was delivered to enslaved people of African descent in Galveston, Texas, thus making them aware of the elimination of chattel slavery vis-à-vis the Emancipation Proclamation which was signed two years prior.

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