Chris Wondolowski and the remarkable empathy and insight of pro athletes

Chris Wondolowski, the greatest goalscorer in MLS history, grew up in Danville, California, one the wealthiest zip codes in the United States. He played most of his youth soccer for Mustang SC, whose facilities match those of the world's top pro academies. Of course, to become as successful as he has, Wondolowski spent endless hours playing unorganized ball, with his brothers and dad, in the house and backyard. And on golf courses, where they'd challenge each other to hit the greens with one or two shots, and with chips to hit the pin -- until the groundskeepers chased them off.

That youth experience led to college ball at Division II Chico State and since 2005 Wondolowski has played in MLS. He broke Landon Donovan's record of 145 goals in May of 2019, and had scored 161 goals going into Wednesday night's game against the Portland Timbers. A game that got canceled because MLS players joined the strike by pro athletes to focus attention on police brutality and racial injustice and inequality.

On Thursday, at his behest, the San Jose Earthquakes set up a Zoom press conference for its captain to address the issues that led to the players' strike.

Wondolowski, at times emotional -- "When I came home I explained to Emersyn, my daughter, why I didn't play" -- told us that he and his teammates were dressed and ready to go. They considered their obligation to their fans, they spoke with the Timbers' players, and the vote was unanimous.

If you have followed all the coverage and commentary in the wake of the Wisconsin police officer shooting of Jacob Blake -- not that long after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery -- you saw how unitedly professional athletes have been reacting to incidents of police brutality and its exposure of racial injustice and inequality. You will have noticed that men and women who get paid to play sports reacting more empathically and insightfully than many in other sectors of our society with access to a pulpit.

Wondolowski makes it easy to see why pro athletes have astute comprehension of our society's complexities. He may have grown up in a wonderful neighborhood, gone to one of the top rated public high schools in the country, and could trespass on a golf course knowing there'd be no serious consequences. But for the last 15 years, he's worked with colleagues from a wide range of socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

"You learn so much about someone's culture, someone's heritage, who they are, why they think a certain way, why they became who they are," Wondolowski said. "To hear their stories is empowering and that's why I think, across all sports, we have that pod of cultures and nationalities."

The 37-year-old Wondolowski has had teammates who grew up in poverty, in the USA and abroad. Teammates who experienced racism, and teammates who, if not for their athletic skills, would have remained in socio-economic environments denying them of comforts that most of us take for granted.

"When you share a locker room, when you share a space day in and day out, and you battle together with that individual -- and you have to shed blood, sweat and tears with them -- you need to have their back," Wondolowski said. "And you realize that everyone is equal and it's an amazing thing."

How many other occupations are as meritocratic as professional sports? It's a profit-driven industry accessible to those who can help a club win whether they're from the suburbs or the favela -- and success depends on teamwork.

As one of the MLS veterans involved in navigating how players will take a stance, Wondolowski said he's been consulting with his former teammates Justin Morrow, now with Toronto FC and the executive director of Black Players for Change, and Ike Opara, now with Minnesota United.

"I really do consider them family," Wondolowski said. "This cause is something worth fighting for and it's something that we need.

"There's no way I can say I've experienced the same injustices that some of these other people have experienced, but I know they are my brothers as well."

27 comments about "Chris Wondolowski and the remarkable empathy and insight of pro athletes".
  1. Kenneth Bauer, August 28, 2020 at 11:33 a.m.

    What absolute nonsense from we the sheeple. Nationwide the support for BLM is 50% at best and declining the more people  learn about their radical agenda. Yet. somehow we are supposed to believe that there is 100% support among athletes. Obviously that is not true. What you have are many athletes who are too scared and cowardly to give a real opinion for fear of retribution. The idea that athletes are so enlightened that they are 100% united is ridiculous. In addition, all this protest means completely nothing. Just another group of athletes craving for attention. I can find something else to do than waste my time on a bunch of cowards preaching to me about a nro-Marxist group that has done absolutely nothing to help one single Black person. I don't even want to get into the fact that there is not one shred of evidence that any of the recent police shooting are racially motivated. Do you know how many white people have been shot by the police since George Floyd? Neither do I. It's never reported although it happens more than Black shootings. Everyone needs to wake up, do some research, and stop taking advice from overpaid athletes playing a game for a living.

  2. Oswald Dwyer replied, August 29, 2020 at 1:06 p.m.

    Idiotic rambings of a scared and frightened racist. If I could convince these players never to play for people like you again I would. Forget the hate and embrace the change for it is surely coming.

  3. Greg Gould replied, August 31, 2020 at 1:53 p.m.

  4. John Polis, August 28, 2020 at 1:19 p.m.

    The knee-jerk response by professional sports leagues and their athletes is unconvincing to the public, especially those who buy tickets. We don't know if the players are genuinely concerned or acting out a herd mentality where all of them vote to participate. And we don't know if the leagues and organizations are driven by genuine concern, motivated by business concerns or just bullied into it by the players. To me, it all doesn't quite add up. Personally, I could care less what a professional athlete feels about social issues or politics in general. I'm sick of the BLM T-shirts. In my time traveling with professional athletes (admittedly from a different era), I found them mostly uninformed on the big issues and I have no reason to believe, despite the technology of today, that it's changed all that much. Most fans I know don't care what the players think about politics. They'd prefer that they just play the game. I also suspect that many of the players taking part in this are doing so out of loyalty to their team and individual players, their friends, who feel strongly about the issues.

  5. Bob Ashpole, August 28, 2020 at 2:13 p.m.

    Lots of namecalling and insults here. That seems like a knee-jerk reaction to me (classic deflection), rather than any logic-based response.

    I have news for you guys. Experts have widely agreed for over 50 years that our criminal justice system is racially biased. So lets get past that issue.

  6. John Foust replied, August 28, 2020 at 3:38 p.m.

    Sorry Bob, the data does not in any way shape or form support a systemic police problem.  Do your homework - the numbers don't lie.  And among the numbers you obviously cherry-pick for your statement, notice how black attacks on police officers - including fatal - is NEVER mentioned?

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, August 28, 2020 at 6:31 p.m.

    John, that is also my professional opinion as a former prosecutor. The first step of problem solving is recognizing the problem.

  8. Michael Stralen, August 28, 2020 at 5:29 p.m.

    KB- You may want to do a little research yourself!!!  An ABC News Poll states 63% of those Americans polled support BLM and that recognition of discrimination has jumped in the USA to a 32 year high of 69%.  Since 2017 1,441 white people have been shot to death by police.  In that same period there have been 778 black people shot to death.  The total number of people of all races shot to death by the police is 3,545.  So the percentage of Whites shot to death is 41% and Black is 22%.  Whites make up approximately 60.1% of the population and Black people make up 13.4%.  THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE a higher percentage of Black people in this country are shot to death by the police!!!

  9. Santiago 1314 replied, August 29, 2020 at 5:07 a.m.

    @MS ... ARMED vs UN-ARMED ...Sounds like most of the shootings were Warranted ...  "The Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings showed 14 unarmed Black victims and 25 unarmed white victims in 2019." (USA Today 7/3/20) ... This is a minuscule Problem, that is being WAY Over-Hyped for Political and Financial Purposes ... But, if the Players Don't want to play, that is their Decision... Nobody is Watching anyway.!!! .. At Least they aren't Kneeling.

  10. Kenneth Bauer replied, August 29, 2020 at 6:10 p.m.

    Nice try, but the numbers don't take into account that a disproportionate number of Black commit crimes and also are involved in police confrontations. The one person that you should never try to get into an argument with involving numbers is a mathematician and statistical analyst. But like I said, nice try.

  11. Michael Stralen, August 28, 2020 at 5:36 p.m.

    JP- I believe you are out of touch with current times.  Look around the country (or even the world) professional athletes do care and I beleive the majority of fans care too!!!  Look at the stats from the poll above.  You will see that most of the country does care!!!

  12. Michael Stralen, August 28, 2020 at 5:42 p.m.

    JF- You say "the data does not in anyway shape or form support a systemic police problem" and "do your homework the numbers don't lie".  I don't see any of your numbers nor do I see where you did any homework.

  13. Jeanine Valadez, August 28, 2020 at 8:47 p.m.

    I support and honor the protesting players.  My very white, wealthy, conservative City in Northern California had our local PD publish their arrest data over a multi-year period and found indeed evidence of racial disparity.  As a percentage of our 30k-person population, only a little over 4% are Hispanic and just under 0.5% are Black, and yet the arrest records were 10% Hispanic and 3% Black.  Moreover, many non-white residents and white residents who employ non-white people reported at City Council meetings how often they are stopped, interrogated, and then not cited since they have done nothing wrong.  (As a Hispanic woman, I have lived in this City for 30 years and have always been a home owner, community volunteer, professional Youth Boys soccer coach, Silicon Valley engineering executive, and parent, and I have been stoppped 8-10 times driving my "luxury" Lexus 470 SUV for no other reason but to ask me if I live here or iftmy car was indeed mine.  I have never been stopped nor cited for any traffic violation.) As a result, the City Council is considering demanding that the police start to record "stop" data, as well as citation and arrest data.  The voting youth (18-30yrs old) in our community - mostly wealthy whites, but also POC - are rising up in droves, not only marching, but organizing, demanding change in meetings with the Police, the City Council, Community Groups, and older residents.  These GenZers will not tolerate social, racial or environmental injustices.  The intersectionality of it all is their reality now - it MUST become ours.  We Boomers (or you GenXers, even the coddled older Millennials) either better start to listen (this Boomer is listening intently) or become irrelevant.  The GenZ generation, like the Greatest Generation, know how to really roll up their sleeves and do the on-the-ground work of change. They're smart, gritty, selfless, know the power of collaboration and institutional endeavor, they're entrepreneurial, they're well educated, and they care about the macro AND micro issues in the world. THEY VOTE. They have seen the future and they don't like it, so this effort is an existential battle for them.  

  14. Santiago 1314 replied, August 29, 2020 at 5:42 a.m.

    They Don't Vote.!!! ... If they Really were so SMART, They would Vote More, and have More Impact ...2016 Only 50% Voted( , ~40%( ... They are actually a Self-Centered Age Group, Who are "Followers".!!!

  15. Ken Fadner, August 29, 2020 at 7:43 a.m.

    I'm wondering if any of the commenters who are against the athletes protesting together in team solidarity were ever on a team themselves?

  16. Michael Stralen, August 29, 2020 at 2:27 p.m.

    Santiago- Even your "minuscule" numbers show there is a systemic problem and any unarmed victims shot and killed by police is far too many!!!

  17. Santiago 1314 replied, August 30, 2020 at 1:48 p.m.

    @MS; You can't say that the 14 Unarmed Black People that we're killed by Police in 2019, Didn't "Desreve" it... You and I don't know the Circumstances Of this FOURTEEN Cases... That's is Washington Post Data... Not Mine...(Maybe they were Strangling someone, Maybe they Died in Car Wrecks, and Maybe the Police got it Wrong)... Let's go by Facts and Legal System; Not Emotion and Violence.!!!

  18. Guy Walling, August 29, 2020 at 2:34 p.m.

    Ken I don't think they are or were professional or college, or even HS athletes. If they were they would understand what Wondolowski was referring to. They have no idea what racism feels like. I know one thing...they seem to be very insensitive towards the athletes feelings and lack the compassion to understand their cause. I'm not sure why they even post on this soccer platform if they hate athletes so much. Its all hypocrisy! To all the naysayers above posting insensitive comments about BLM and the athletes support...please ask yourself what if this was your son or daughter getting shot 7 times in the back! Is everyone posting above about freakin facts and statistics forgetting about one of the most important facts and that is, we are all God's children and there is no coming back from getting shot to DEATH! Instead of condemning these athletes for uniting for fare justice, we seem to be ok with the police killing first and asking questions later. One death is to many! But I guess when we are ok with a president saying, it is what it is," in regards to 180k deaths from Covid, what's one more black guy or woman getting shot to death by the police? He probably deserved it, he was a criminal any way. As long as it's not your son or daughter, right? Death is Not ok! Can we all realize this? Can please all understand why these athletes feel  the need to take a stand without condemning them? Why is everyone ok with someone getting shot when it's not in self defense? And stop saying Blake had a knife and that's why he was shot 7 times. He was shot because he was black and that was the final straw that made the athletes protest! So fuck all your statistics!

  19. Raffaele Aquino, August 29, 2020 at 2:37 p.m.

    Shooting a guy 7 times in the back I guess is good policing then lol. I'm not American I'm Canadian but I have to admit I've never seen so many out of shape and overweight police officers as I see in the US whenever I've been there. I think one of the main problems in the US might also be the amount of training these guys get. It seems like the only way these guys know how to police is just to shoot at the first sign of trouble and just keep on shooting. When the only thing you lack training the easy way out is too just shoot shoot shoot it seems in the US. For a country that us outsiders looking in are constantly reminded how great it supposedly is , this seemingly lack of training and the look of so many out of shape and overweight cops is not a good look for a supposedly great country!

  20. Guy Walling, August 29, 2020 at 2:54 p.m.

    And one more thing, to all you Kenneth Bauer's, John Polis's, John Foust's and Santiago's above: I have been an athlete and I have had my sister shot to death by a policeman who killed first and asked questions later. He got 7 years my sister got death! She was unarmed and not physically resisting! I speak with experience! The police need reformed! So don't go talking about your freakin statistics and asking to get my facts straight? Trust me, I do. One death is too many!

  21. Guy Walling, August 29, 2020 at 3:12 p.m.

    So I'm not going to go as far as calling everyone who written negative posts towards athletes protesting or BLM movements, or any other social protests, but please have more compassion for your fellow man. Death is NOT rehabitable! Everyone NEEDS to be more UNDERSTANDING and that the is the message!

  22. Santiago 1314 replied, August 30, 2020 at 1:41 p.m.

    @Guy, You claim Faith, "We are all Gods Children" and then use Foul, Vile Language On a Soccer Blog; ("F" all your Statistics) ... Death to a Christian is NOT the End... It gets better; PERFECT EVEN in The Resurrection... But I like it THE WAY Tolkien/Peter Jackson said it;
    GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
    PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
    GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
    PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
    GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.”
    GUY; Seek The Lord in ALL Things and he will bring you PEACE; here and in The After Life.!!!

  23. Ken Fadner, August 30, 2020 at 7:27 a.m.

    I agree with what you say, Guy.

  24. Guy Walling, August 30, 2020 at 2:21 p.m.

    Thanks Ken! And Wow Ken, so because I practice freedom of speech I'm not of faith? Please, don't live in glass houses because they do crack sometimes. No Creature is perfect, especially me! ⚽️⚽️

  25. Guy Walling, August 30, 2020 at 2:24 p.m.

    Sorry Ken second statement directed towards Santiago 

  26. Shaun Howe, August 30, 2020 at 3:06 p.m.

    I enjoyed the article and perspective of Wondolowski. In other to grow and evolve as Wondo has you need to open your mind, learn from others and experience the world and different cultures. 

  27. Michael Stralen, August 31, 2020 at 2:32 p.m.

    @Santiago- Yes I can and will say they did not deserve it!!!  My opinion is and always will be that any unarmed person shot and killed by police, did not deserve it!!!  There are other methods the police can use to subdue and individual.  I am not really sure of your line of thinking when you yourself state you do not know the circumstances of the 14 cases, but then go on to say "Let's go by Facts and Legal System; Not Emotion and Violence".

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