'We footballers can use our voices' - USMNT ace Richards speaks out on climate change and racism

Chris Richards Exclusive GFXGetty/GOAL

Chris Richards is around 5,000 miles away from home but Birmingham, Alabama remains at the forefront of his mind. 

The 22-year-old Bayern Munich defender, who is currently on loan to Hoffenheim, was born and raised in the American city famed for being at the epicentre of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. 

Now, however, there's a new battle brewing in Birmingham and it involves the environment, with the southern state under constant threat of forest fires.

Indeed, 59 percent of the population (approximately 2.8 million people) live in at-risk areas, Richards' family among them.

"Alabama is pretty well-known for its beautiful nature. It’s got a lot of forests, we have Red Mountain and Oak Mountain, which are major landmarks," Richards explains in an exclusive interview with GOAL

"We have a lot of beautiful animals and people are living off the land. It's also quiet. My family all pretty much live there. 

"I know climate change is impacting the whole world but, for us, it has been about forest fires. It makes me sad because I don't want to see all that beauty destroyed.

"I am still young and want to experience it. You see also the floods in Germany last year which impacted some of my team-mates. I want to pass on that beauty of nature to the next generation."

It's not hard to see why Richards, despite his young age, is confident and articulate enough to speak his mind. 

He is very much a product of his own environment.

Birmingham is a city in which African-Americans were once brutally persecuted by corrupt and unjust politicial and social systems, as well as the heinous white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan. 

It's hardly surprising, then, that he has been greatly influenced by those that spoke out against racism and inequality.

"My role models aren’t athletes but people using their voices in the right way like former president Barack Obama and trailblazing tennis star Arthur Ashe," he reveals. 

"I have Martin Luther King Jr. tattooed on my arm, he was courageous and he inspires me. 

"My mom is white and my dad is black: that just wouldn't have been a thing where I grew up 40 years ago. 

"My dad has always pushed me to always try to be as well educated as possible. I took it upon myself to do the extra reading and research.

"I especially like documentaries and the Black Lives Matter movement has allowed black stories to be told. 

"I don’t think we’d know about a lot of them if the protests didn’t happen. In school, they don’t teach you everything, especially when it comes to African-American history. 

"Growing up in Alabama, I got to learn about that type of stuff."

Richards is also learning plenty at Hoffenheim this season, with the United States international back in the starting line-up after six weeks on the sidelines through injury.

Indeed, with the club currently sixth in the Bundesliga standings, the former FC Dallas centre-back now looks poised to play a key role in Hoffenheim's bid to make it into next season's Europa League before potentially returning to Bayern.

"It’s hard to not think about what will happen in the summer," he admits. "Right now, though, I want to help Hoffenheim qualify for Europe."

Of course, there's also the small matter of Qatar 2022 to consider.

"I was part of the national team for this World Cup qualifying cycle," he explains. "So, on the field, it has been a really good year for me.

"It is really cool for the US to be back in the World Cup and we want to do business in Qatar. It has been a great time lately with our team."

Article continues below

Richards, though, won't be losing sight of the issues that matter most to him and is urging all of his fellow professionals to do what they can to protect the planet.

"Donating millions of dollars to charity isn't the only way to help," he says. "We footballers have a voice and can use our voices. 

"It is about making an effort, especially with climate change. Just because you don’t see change right away doesn’t mean it isn’t working. It’s not a sprint; it is a marathon."