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NM United coach, players stand with Bedoya’s message on gun violence

New Mexico United defender Josh Suggs, here stretching for a ball in a match against El Paso, is a gun owner. But easy access to assault weapons, he says, “is not worth the lives we’ve lost.” (Jim Thompson/Journal file)

After last weekend’s spate of deadly mass shootings, which saw 32 people killed and 51 injured in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, in less than 24 hours, Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya decided that he had had enough.

During a nationally televised Major League Soccer match on the day of the Dayton massacre, Bedoya scored in the third minute against D.C. United. Rather than celebrate with a more traditional, apolitical knee slide, Bedoya extricated himself from his teammates and grabbed an on-field microphone. The former U.S. international made an impassioned plea for politicians to take action, his voice crackling with emotion.

“Hey Congress, do something now!” Bedoya implored. “End gun violence!”

Those words immediately sparked a debate reminiscent of the reactions to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protestations of systemic racism. Camps on Twitter, where Bedoya was a trending topic, were split between those in favor of his outspoken stance on the gun violence epidemic and those who prefer keeping politics out of the sporting arena.

Josh Suggs and his New Mexico United teammates, who play Sunday night in Portland against Timbers 2 in United Soccer League Championship action, were watching it unfold.

“At a certain point in time, you have to realize that it’s not worth it for some people to … own guns,” defender Josh Suggs, a gun owner himself, told the Journal this past week.

After the match, Bedoya defended himself in an Instagram post clarifying his position as that of a human being first and an athlete second. Union manager Jim Curtin stood behind his captain’s advocacy, and the Union released a statement lauding Bedoya for his humanity. Ultimately, the league decided not to hand down sanctions, and Bedoya won MLS Player of the Week.

New Mexico United head coach and technical director Troy Lesesne said that, while the circumstances of Bedoya’s actions were unusual, he agreed with the premise of his declaration.

“You’ve never seen an athlete go to a microphone on the field and make a statement like that,” Lesesne said. “But the statement that he’s making is something that everybody, no matter if you’re conservative or liberal, agrees with.”

Death, politics and sport have long been inextricably linked — during the 1972 Summer Olympics in West Germany, 11 Israeli Olympic team members were killed in a hostage situation precipitated by a Palestinian terrorist group.

The history of professional soccer likewise is pockmarked by human tragedy. Violence linked to the sport can trace its roots back to 14th-century England, when King Edward II banned an early iteration of the sport for fear of social unrest or even treason, according to the Guardian.

Rarely, however, has gun violence permeated the soccer community as it did in El Paso.

At the same time as a lone gunman opened fire at a Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall on the morning of Aug. 3, killing 22 and injuring 24, members and coaches of the nonprofit youth soccer league Paso del Norte were making preparations for a fundraiser for their fall season. Javier Amir Rodriguez, the youngest victim of the massacre at 15, was killed in the alleged shooter’s indiscriminate firing. Mexican national and assistant coach Jorge Calvillo García lost his life while raising money for his granddaughter’s Fusion SC team. Four other Fusion coaches were wounded before the suspect surrendered to police.

Just two weeks earlier, two clubs from the Paso del Norte Soccer League had traveled to Murfreesboro, Tenn., for the Presidents’ Cup and captured a youth national title.

The aftermath of the shooting saw an outpouring of grief, support and mobilization of resources to help the survivors of the El Paso soccer community. A USL Championship match between El Paso Locomotive FC and Timbers 2, scheduled for later that evening was postponed, and a charity match was organized for later today in El Paso. Locomotive FC players donated blood and organized a fundraiser, and the Curse, a New Mexico supporters group, also organized a blood drive and a fundraiser.

The shockwave from the tragedy reverberated across the globe — Italian giants AS Roma announced Fusion SC as their team of the day on Twitter while sharing a GoFundMe started by supporters of Arsenal, the English Premier League stalwart. The GoFundMe raised nearly $25,000 as of Saturday evening, and Locomotive FC’s ownership group pledged $150,000 in support of victim relief funds.

United midfielder Daniel Bruce, hailing from Warrington, England, was directly impacted by gun violence earlier this year: A school shooting on the last day of classes at his alma mater, UNC Charlotte, left two dead and four injured on April 30. While the Englishman wasn’t on campus at the time, he had friends that were, and he said he was “very worried” at the time before finding out about their safety.

He noted the stark juxtaposition of gun violence levels between the United States and his home country, but was reticent to give an answer on the reasons for the disparity.

“I would be lying if I said I knew the answers and what was the real issue at hand, but something needs to be done,” Bruce said. “If I knew why there would be a big difference, I’d be paying a lot of money for the answer. It is much easier to get your hands on a gun over here.”

Suggs understands the culture of gun ownership in the United States. Growing up in Las Cruces, he said that gang violence while he was in school was just a part of life. Hunting and protection are worthwhile reasons for gun ownership, he believes.

“I’m for gun ownership, because obviously I have guns and use them for a very valid purpose. But at the same time, there needs to be more background checks, they need to be more thorough — there’s no reason for an assault rifle (in society).”

The near-constant suffering caused by easy access to assault weapons and mass shootings is a huge problem, Suggs said: “That is not a good weapon that you would want to be defending your house with.

“I understand that people want to have these guns, and they want to go out and target shoot, and I’m OK with that. But at the same time, it has caused so many problems that it’s not worth the lives that we’ve lost.”

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