MLS Forms Historic Partnership with Black-Owned Banks

Soccer is not high on the list of sports that African Americans gravitate towards. Whites dominate the sport followed by those with a Latino background. Even though Major League Soccer (MLS) is considered to be the most diverse professional sport, African Americans participation soccer is still extremely low. Just look at the numbers of African Americans in professional sports. In the National Football League, which has the highest number of African American players with nearly 70%., there are only 5 head coaches and 0 majority owned teams. The National Basketball Association is like the NFL with a little under 70% of African Americans players. Unlike the NFL, NBA has 14 head coaches and 0 minority owned professional teams. Baseball players have the least amount of African American players with nearly 8%, which is a major dropped from the 20% it was in the 1970s. African Americans as head coaches make up nearly 10% with 0 owners. All professional sports are working on their diversity, equity, and inclusion policy to include more African American players, head coaches and owners. MLS wants to change those stats with the major and historic partnership with African American owned banks.

The announcement came this week via Twitter in a tweet that read, “This is a landmark moment – in sports history, in Civil Rights history, in American history.”

MLS will partner with the National Black Bank Foundation (NBBF) to leverage a historic $25 million loan. The move is the first time any sports league has participated in a major commercial transaction exclusively with Black banks.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said to MLS newsletter, “Major League Soccer’s partnership with the National Black Bank Foundation is a tangible step in the efforts to close the racial economic gap in the United States, and it’s the right business decision for us.”

"There is a commitment from across the organization to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive league, one that is reflective of who it is that we say we want to be," Sola Winley, MLS' executive vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer told ESPN.

MLS has been fiercely working on their diversity, equity, and inclusion iniatives to combat racism, advocate for change, and increase the number of African Americans in the sport. For the past 15 years, MLB has constantly updated their policy as they learn how to navigate the issue from talks with Sola Winley, MLS' executive vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer; Black Players for Change, an independent organization of more than 170 MLS players, coaches, and staff; and SCORE (Soccer Collective on Racial Equality), a collective of Black former MLS players.

The collaboration came together as a vision of Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. She is also the CEO of King Center and Board Member of the NBBF. “I brought MLS and NBBF together because I saw an opportunity to create a partnership with the power to transform lives in Black communities and change hearts and minds throughout our nation. This deal undoubtedly marks an important moment in the continuing struggle for civil rights in the United States,” said King to MLS Soccer newsletter. “This deal undoubtedly marks an important moment in the continuing struggle for civil rights in the United States.”

As a result of the partnership that also includes 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Black community will become more informed about the importance of Black-owned banks and their impact on the economy. The loan will create new lines of credit for home and small business loans. Interests and fees will help the banks’ capital grow.

NBBF co-founder and general counsel Ashley Bell believes that this may cause other leagues and corporations to follow the lead of MLS. Bell said, “In that case, lives of Black families all across this country will change for the better because their local Black bank will have the capital resources to approve historic numbers of home and small business loans.”

The lack of capital has plagued the Black community from climbing out of poverty. Past data indicates how the undeserved borrowers were constantly denied for loans to advance their status in life with home ownership and becoming entrepreneurs.

The syndication team led by Lead Arranger Citizens Trust Bank and Co-lead Arranger Carver Federal Savings Bank will facilitate the loan with several other Black-owned banks that includes Unity National Bank in Houston.

King added, “This transformative partnership between MLS and Black banks around the country is evidence of what can happen when leaders courageously stand up and decide to participate in equitable change.”

“The players are catalysts,” Bell said. “They risked their reputation and sometimes their jobs to stand up for what they believe in. When you’re a fan like I am and many are, to see players stepping up, you have to rally.”

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