Sports

Philadelphia Union Captain Alejandro Bedoya Wants To Be Considered ‘A Human Being First’

Alejandro Bedoya doesn’t score goals all that often. The Philadelphia Union midfielder and captain found the back of the net five times in 34 matches across all competitions last season, with one of those five, a strike from outside the 18-yard box against D.C. United, going down as one of the most well-known goals in league history.

Bedoya’s right-footed effort cut through DCU’s defense, and by the time opposing keeper Bill Hamid dove to the ground, there was nothing his outstretched arm could do. What made the goal so notable, though, was what happened after — Bedoya went to the corner to celebrate, saw the on-field mic, and after spending his weekend watching as 83 people were either injured or murdered in mass shootings in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX, picked it up and challenged Congress to do something about gun violence.

It brought loads of attention to Bedoya and, in the aftermath, soccer fans took to Twitter and did what they could to get him named the league’s Player of the Week. (It involved a whole lot of tweeting at the official MLS Twitter account, as you can see in the replies here, and he won.) It also highlighted something in which Bedoya takes a lot of pride: His sense of humanity, which he always wants to come through, even if soccer is how he’s made his name over the last decade-plus.

“Like I’ve always said, before I’m a soccer player, a professional athlete, I’m now a father, I’m a human being, I’m a husband, I’m a guy who is involved in the community, all these things, right?” Bedoya told Uproxx Sports over the phone. “So people kind of forget about that when they see us just playing on TV.”

We caught up with Bedoya while he was in Los Angeles at MLS Media Day last month, and touched on his goal celebration against D.C., why he doesn’t necessarily think athletes should be role models, the Union, soccer’s growth in America, and much more.

You’re someone who interests me because I see you on Twitter, I see you in the media, and you seem like someone who’s really interested in using your platform for good. And the moment that blew up was when you grabbed the microphone after scoring against D.C. last year. I know you’ve spoken about it before, but just in your own words, what led to you doing that and were you surprised by how big of a story that turned into?

It was really a spur of the moment thing, but I know what led me to that. That weekend I was in the hotel in D.C., and seeing what everybody was seeing all over the news, all over the local TV channels, the news outlets, all over social media, were the shootings. It really hit home because recently, the Parkland shooting, that’s where I grew up, that’s an area where you’d think, in that community, something like that could never happen, and it did. It hit really close to home. I had a teammate who lost his best friend in that Parkland shooting. I had friends who I grew up with that grew up in that neighborhood and that community who had family and relatives involved in that shooting.

You get sick and tired of, here in the States, dealing with all this gun violence and mass school shootings and things like that. The game was in D.C. and it was a spur of the moment, it wasn’t planned. I don’t score often, so I couldn’t plan something like that. I went over to celebrate. Actually, I went to that corner because I actually believed that our fans were in that corner because we had played in a Cup game like two weeks prior, and that’s where actually our fan base was. But there were no fans and I just saw one of my teammates’ mothers, Ilsinho’s mother. So I just hugged her and for whatever reason something hit me.

I saw the mic in the corner of my eye, and you know, the whole weekend talking about it with friends and on social media, just having conversations about gun violence and all that, it was on my mind and I decided to go over to the corner, saw the mic, had no idea if it was on or not, if it was working, if you could even hear that on the telecast — normally there’s a five second delay or something between live and what you see on TV. But it was heard around the States on the national broadcast and around the world.

So yeah, I was surprised by how quickly it spread, but not really surprised because we live in viral times. It was interesting because as I was going into the locker room, the police officer that was security on the field, had pulled me aside, called my name was like, “Hey, by the way, thanks for what you just said, you’ve gone viral.” And I was like, “Oh wow, okay.” So you know, once the game ended, obviously I checked my phone and my battery was drained from all the notifications, it was just crazy.

I know you didn’t do it for this, but what goes through your mind when in that following week, MLS fans basically did this campaign to get you to be Player of the Week in light of this moment?

MLS

That was very interesting. I think it just shows the human emotion that people have to these types of things. It affects us all. It affects our communities. It affects our families and friends, people we know. Like I’ve always said, before I’m a soccer player, a professional athlete, I’m now a father, I’m a human being, I’m a husband, I’m a guy who is involved in the community, all these things, right? So people kind of forget about that when they see us just playing on TV. We’re just there to serve for entertainment purposes or something like that.

What I said was really a nonpartisan thing, but in this country we know that Congress makes laws and regulations that affects us all. So I think that’s what had an influence on many people, was the fact that I just said for these people to come together, get their act together, and for the public as well to try to make a difference. I think we can all get behind trying to save more lives by trying to come up with solutions to curb gun violence, which, in this country, it’s crazy, you look at numbers and stats compared to the other first-world countries all over the world.

On using your platform for stuff like this, there’s that famous Charles Barkley quote, “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Is that a quote that you agree with? Disagree with? What thoughts do you have over the concept of athletes not being role models?

I think I would agree to some of that to some extent, because what I do agree with is role models, for me, should be people that you have more intimate relationships with, so your parents, your school teachers, these are people you see day in and day out and you have more intimate relationships with, family members and things like that. For us athletes, we’re role models in the sense that a lot of people see us through their love of sports, strive to be professional athletes or they love playing sports. So you know, we are at the peak talent-wise, like what you can become when you sacrifice a lot and you work so hard to become what we are. To an extent I agree with him because I don’t really consider myself a role model. Like I said, I think your parents, first and foremost, your teachers, people in your community that you see every day. They should strive to be your role models and treat you right and help you grow and mature into the person that you’ll become.

But what I will say is that with social media and our platforms that we have, I think it’s good for athletes to — because they become such a big part of their communities and many people do look up to them — make something of your platform. I wouldn’t judge anybody for not speaking out or anything like that, because some people are shy or some people aren’t as outspoken as others, they feel a certain way. But for me, I was always raised to speak my mind to, like I said, I’m a human being first, so I get emotional and I’m passionate about certain things and that’s just the way I’ve always been. So to each their own, but I wouldn’t say that we’re not role models at all, but I do agree to some extent that we shouldn’t be the role model for people. I would say I am an advocate for using your social platform for good and to make an impact.

Obviously gun violence is one thing you have used your platform on. What are some other major societal issues that you find yourself thinking about, speaking about, and wanting to use your platform to try and change?

Yeah, I think in the past I’ve brought up immigration issues. That’s a hot topic, too. I think we all want some type of immigration reform in this country and it’s a touchy subject. The rhetoric now in our country has become so divisive, which is tough to come to terms with. But I do believe that most of us are some type of moderates, and that’s kind of gone out the window. Like if you lean one way, you’re automatically the left-wing idiot or something, and if not, if you’re the other way you’re like a right-wing nut job or something. It’s ridiculous, really. But through soccer, I’ve been blessed to travel the world, to live in Europe for 10 years. I have a Norwegian wife who is from a totally different society that they have in Scandinavia.

I think just being able to travel the world and seeing things so differently, I’ve got different perspectives and seen different things and I try to show that in some of my tweets, you know, that other people may be that … because there is a lot of ignorance out there. I love America just as much as the next person, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to make America better than what it is right now, because there’s a lot of things that we can learn. America is great, yeah, it is. But the rhetoric has become so divisive now that that’s why I speak out on certain issues because we’ve kind of lost that on empathy towards our fellow Americans or even other human beings, you know what I mean? So yeah, that’s kind of another subject that I touched on before.

I wanted to get into footy a little bit before we go. Looking back on last year, it was, in terms of performance, the best season in club history. You had that huge win, that thrilling win over New York in the playoffs, and then the loss to Atlanta. As you look back, what worked well and where are the areas where you think that you guys could have been a little bit better?

Yeah, we did had a great season. Since I’ve been here, I say we’ve been gradually improving. We’ve got a good mix of youth, guys coming in — our academy is doing really well — and veteran experienced guys like myself. I think last year we had a little bit of a different style of play, the way we played 4-4-2 diamond in the beginning of games and pressing teams, but also trying to keep a little bit of [head coach] Jim Curtain’s like philosophy of trying to keep the ball and move it and playing off of each other. We tried to play it the game the right way, keeping the ball on the ground and moving off the ball and tactically being very, very sound.

What we could have done better maybe is, it’s always tough to win away games in this league, because of travel and stuff like that. But if we’re able to get more points away, I think at home we’re able to take care of business, and that’s just what we got to keep doing, using the homefield advantage to our advantage because economically, it’s hard. I’m in L.A., it’s a beautiful stadium. I’ve seen the players that some of these other clubs have been signing, the amounts of money that they spent. There is some correlation. You see the semi-finalists from last year, the four teams, they’re all teams that have spent big, big money on players and their clubs.

We’re not there yet, but we can still compete with them, and that’s the important thing. It’s just to keep that Philly spirit — blue collar, industrial, hardworking, and never back down attitude that I think that fits me very well and our team. Just got to keep it going. I think there definitely needs to be some reinforcement this season. We’ve lost a lot of players from last year and we’ll see, there’s a month left until the season starts.

What’s the vibe as you talk to your teammates, talk to coaches, whomever else about your team heading into 2020?

To be honest, I don’t know actually, I just literally got to Philly like this past week, the offseason’s so long. I haven’t been talking much to players or our coaching staff or anything like that. But I’m an ambitious guy, at the very minimum the goal is to have a home playoff game and a win that first playoff game. And then like I said, it’s not irrational, anything could happen in the playoffs. I think last year everybody thought LAFC was going to run away with it, and that was just not the case, that’s why you play the games. So like I said, I think we still need a couple of reinforcements, and we’ll see. Hopefully, the new guys coming in step it up and can make a difference and our youth players can also make that next step, and continue to develop.

I’m glad you mentioned the young guys because there are two in particular that I want to ask you about who I think have Philly and U.S. Soccer fans really excited, and that’s Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, they’re both with the national team right now. What do you see in them as players that should make Union fans and national team fans excited going forward?

They’re just a testament to what can happen when there really is an investment in these academies and in the youth, giving these guys opportunities to develop with good coaching around them and a good environment. I’ve been over to that facility that Richie Graham has helped build. They got the school across the street from the facility where all these guys train at. I just saw a clip yesterday, actually, that they posted about the U-12s putting in work and just seeing their skills and the type of young kids that are being developed through that academy. So yeah, they’re just a testament to all that, and the next step is obviously being able to sell them, take that next step into the national team, become first-team regulars, and we’ll see what they’re made out of.

I always say to them it’s one thing to make it, sign that first contract as a professional. That’s kind of the easy part, right? The hardest part is consistency. Can you do this? Can you perform at a level, day in and day out, every weekend, every season, and have a long career?

So I have two final questions for you. One is, I think that a lot of Americans were really captivated by that 2014 national team that you were a part of down in Brazil. Can I get what your favorite story from when you were with that team for a month or two or whatever it was?

Getty Image

My favorite story? Okay, that last game in the group stage, first of all it was an amazing experience, but when we played against Germany, it was raining like crazy and it rained so much that the streets in Brazil are flooding. My family and a lot of the families, most of the families, and people that are supporting us, their buses couldn’t even make it to the stadium. So they had to sit back at the hotel or find a little local spot near hotel to watch the game on TV. So it kind of sucked. But to make that story better was the fact that at the end of that game, we found out that we had qualified to the next round — we were kind of in a group of death, that was such a tight-knit group. We battled hard and we made it out of the group stage and when we got back to the hotel, celebrating getting to the next stage and our performance during that World Cup. That was just an awesome experience, the whole thing.

I stumbled across an interview you gave in Sweden in 2011 where you said coming from the States, you see how much passion there is in European football. When you go out in Sweden you get recognized in public and that’s not something that necessarily happens in the United States. It’s been nine years since then, is that something that you think has changed?

Yeah, it definitely has changed now. When I first went over there, the league wasn’t where it was now. You see now soccer-specific stadiums that are in place and the standing room only sections of certain parts of stadiums, like Orlando, LAFC, and elsewhere, Minnesota and even in Philly, the Sons of Ben and the atmosphere that we had in that playoff game. It’s incredible, the environments are awesome. What Atlanta has built over there, and with Seattle showed in the MLS Cup final. Soccer culture has arrived and it’s here to stay, and I’m excited about the future. Just being recognized even in New York. New York is massive, I don’t think that would have happened anywhere for a normal player. So it’s cool, and 25 years, here we are, and here’s to another 25.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

×