USMNT: Thoughts and Prayers won't end gun violence

United State men's national team gun controlGetty/GOAL

In just a few months, the members of the U.S. men's national team will take the field in Qatar with the stars and stripes on their chest, representing the American people in front of the world.

Sunday's friendly against Uruguay was about preparing for that. But just a few hours before kickoff, the players of the USMNT proved that representing their people was about more than what happened between the lines.

Horrified from watching their country gripped by violence and death over and over again, the team published an open letter to Congress calling on the government to step up and take action against gun violence.

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on gun legislation in the wake of several more needless catastrophes in the U.S.

An elementary school in Texas. A supermarket in Buffalo. Churches, concerts, hospitals. These days, nowhere and no one in America is safe.

Mass shootings, unfortunately, remain the norm in this country. The news is constantly flooded by coverage of blood, gore and death, of violence and sadness and pain.

For a country that still considers itself to be among the world's leaders, the U.S. is failing to protect its own citizens from one another, and the country is doing that by choice.

There have been 27 school shootings in the U.S. in 2022, and over 200 total mass shootings since January. It's a problem that is much bigger than soccer, and it's a problem that many in the U.S. want the authorities to act upon. 

And, for members of the USMNT, this all hits home. They are, of course, citizens but they are also representatives of the U.S. at home and abroad.

Players abroad are often asked about the state of the U.S. by their club teammates, with many left unable to truly express their thoughts about the ongoing issues with gun violence, police brutality and racial discrimination.

Over the last several years, the team has united several times to take a stand, embracing the mantra "Be the Change".

Gun laws, as it stands, remain a hot topic among Americans, but not a hotly debated one.

Most Americans have called for some sort of change in gun laws even before the recent mass shootings, with the bills to change the way the country handles guns often held up in government or in courts. Most Americans want change, but a select few often do whatever they can to prevent it.

"We are often asked how in a place like the United States there can be such horrific gun violence," the USMNT wrote as part of that statement. "We are also asked why the representatives of the people do nothing even though most Americans want them to take action.

"Those of us who play professionally abroad experience none of these things in our daily lives, yet we return home to a place where mass shootings are frighteningly common and the victims are often defenseless children."

It continued: "Those who have lost their lives to senseless gun violence – and their families and friends that are left grieving – are very much in our thoughts and prayers.

"But like the all-too-often moments of silence that we use at our matches to honor the victims, our thoughts and prayers won’t solve this problem.

"Beyond the death and crippling injuries, the gun violence causes so much more damage to the mental health of children, their parents, teachers, and all Americans who worry whether they or someone they love will be among the next victims of a mass shooting.

"Our ability to affect change is limited, but yours is not. You could vote this week to address gun violence in America, and in fact, you will be given that opportunity.

"In the coming days, the U.S. House of Representatives is voting on several bills that would address this serious issue. Please vote yes on all the bills being considered."

The sentiment carried on into the game, with players wearing orange armbands to promote non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety. And, following Sunday's 0-0 draw, head coach Gregg Berhalter's immediate thoughts were on more than just soccer.

"Starting outside of soccer, just really proud of the entire group today for the letter that was sent to Congress calling them to action," Berhalter said to open his postgame press conference.

"Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in our little world and what we're doing and you forget about what's happening in the outside world, but our group didn't do that.

"You saw the letter and the orange armbands. Everyone is just tired of it. It's good that this group is asking for action and asking people to make change. 'Be the Change' is something we've been a part of for a while now and this is just applying it in another area.

He added: “It’s not only about the mass shootings that you see everyday, but it’s about the needless gun violence and the kids, the people that are dying every day.”

Berhalter and the U.S. are the latest sporting figures to make their voices heard. In the NBA finals, both the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics have made several demonstrations, with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr's passionate speech among the most viral responses to the recent tragedy.

In baseball, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler has been protesting during the national anthem, staying off the field to send a message about the state of the nation.

It's a message that has been echoed by many, but there's still concern that things will once again be brushed under the rug. Despite the constant outcries for change after every mass shooting, those outcries often go unheard.

"It's making sure we take action," said defender Walker Zimmerman. "It's not something we're just keeping in our thoughts and prayers. Those things are very important, but we want to be a team that takes action and has a response.

"For the guys to unanimously step up and say we want to send this letter, we approve this letter, I'm proud to be a part of it. It shows our growth as men, as U.S. citizens, of representatives of this country at that level, so I'm proud of the group and how we're standing up for what we believe in."

What happens next is anyone's guess. It shouldn't be at this point in the first place, where athletes feel the need to step up and ask the government to do something, anything, to prevent the death of brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends.

But that's the situation the U.S. finds itself in, and that's what the USMNT means when they say "Be the Change".

That's what Sunday was about. Not a 0-0 draw or World Cup preparation or player performances. That stuff is for another day.

Sunday was a day for soccer players to be citizens, for superstars to be people, for a team to lead a rallying cry. It may not do much.

It may not do anything at all, but the USMNT, like many Americans, has had enough of thoughts and prayers. This time, they want change.