Brandon John is here to have difficult conversations.
As Black Lives Matter protests and social movements consume hearts and minds in the U.S. and Canada, the Atlético Ottawa defender spoke to CanPL.ca about facing unfair treatment from police and helping fans learn, listen, and understand during a promising cultural shift that calls for racial equality in society.
“Whether it’s fans, friends or whoever that have reached out to me, I’ve always responded to them and gave information and answered questions they have,” John told CanPL.ca.
“I think most players in the league will do the same. We like communicating with fans.”
RELATED READING: York9 FC’s Ryan Telfer: Athletes need to speak up about racial inequality
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has put police brutality, and the unfair targeting and treatment of black people by police under a multi-continent-sized microscope. John is no stranger to the issue. Before representing USL sides Orlando City B and Seattle Sounders FC 2, John was with FC Erzgebirge Aue, a club based in rural eastern Germany.
“Having lived in the U.S. and in Germany, (racism) is something I’ve experienced first-hand,” John stated. “Whether it’s being pulled over by police for no reason or being harassed for no reason, it’s something that, y’know, is there.”
A product of Toronto FC Academy, John is set to travel to Ottawa from Toronto to begin training this week. The 25-year-old has been stuck in COVID-19 self-isolation mode, which has given him more than enough time to reflect upon the protests that are taking place in response to police brutality against people of colour.
RELATED READING: Valour FC’s Jean-Baptiste: ‘People all over the world know what it’s like to be oppressed’
“It’s obviously very disappointing seeing what’s happened. It’s not anything new,” John said. “With these protests, it’s good to see people are tired of it and hopefully we can inspire a change.”
John said he’s never been on the receiving end of racist abuse while on the pitch in Canada that he can remember, though the former Vaughan Azzurri defender in League1 Ontario is quick to say Canada has a long way to go when it comes to the issue of combating racism.
“I think it’s something that needs to be addressed head-on. It’s not just in the U.S; (it’s) Canada too. In Canada, personally, I haven’t experienced anything on the pitch,” he said.
“Understanding and empathy are needed from fans. Understanding the players and what they’re going through. As far as I’ve seen, the fans in this league have been great.”
With this in mind, John has challenged CPL fans to have difficult conversations about race relations and social equality in Canada and has encouraged them to reach out to him and other players to start the dialogue.
“If there is anything fans of this league want to learn about, they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to us directly on social media,” John said “If it’s something you feel genuinely about, you should take action. Maybe it’s reaching out, maybe it’s signing petitions and supporting people in the community.”