Coming from a family of Italian immigrants, Alex De Carolis was taught about the evils of racism, and had it instilled into him as a kid that all people are equal regardless of race or ethnicity.
Still, he didn’t like it when sports and politics intersected, and bristled whenever athletes used their public platform to discuss important social issues.
Times change, though. Today, De Carolis, a 27-year-old native of Sarnia, Ont., views the world much differently. The HFX Wanderers FC fullback sees it as his responsibility to speak out about important social justice issues.
“In my early days, when I was younger and before getting educated on this, I used to hate when athletes would mix their beliefs in with their sports. I always wanted athletes to just stick to what they do – ‘you’re an athlete, so be athlete.’ But since I’ve become an athlete, I’ve realized that it’s just a small part of who I am,” De Carolis told CanPL.ca.
“I don’t want to be known simply as Alex De Carolis the soccer player; I want be known for other things, too. So, those people who say athletes need to keep quiet are part of the problem. … Athletes with platforms need to do everything in their power to use them. What CPL players are doing, I think it’s great, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Last week, Atlético Ottawa and Cavalry FC were joined the other six CPL teams for a moment of solidarity before their Island Games match kicked off. The players from the other six teams stood locked hand-in-hand on the far touchline, and all CPL players wore Black Lives Matter shirts and took a knee during the playing of the Canadian national anthem. That was followed by a moment of silence from every CPL player.
A second moment of silence came at the 8:46 mark of the game, when play officially stopped to honour George Floyd, the Minnesota man who was killed in May when a police officer held his neck to the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
“It was a powerful moment, and it showed that sometimes there are more important things in life, and that the game has to come second,” De Carolis said.
If watching every CPL player take a stand against racism during the game made soccer fans watching the OneSoccer broadcast feel uneasy, that was the entire point.
“If the demonstration made people feel uncomfortable, well, that means we’re getting the point across and we have to keep it up… One person can’t change a thing, it has to be a collective movement. That’s what we’re trying to do with this movement,” De Carolis stated.
Beyond wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and taking a knee before games, De Carolis has also been involved with HFX’s anti-racism initiatives, including being a guest speaker during a special Zoom call with Wanderers fans.
“I felt honoured that I was asked to speak. I haven’t been the victim of racism, but I’ve played with guys who played in Europe who’ve had stuff happen to them, so I wanted to share their stories,” De Carolis said.
“A former teammate was playing in Eastern Europe, a black player. He was at a grocery store, waiting his turn in line, and the cashier denied him service. He waited for 10 minutes until the manager finally came over and said, ‘We don’t serve your type here.’ Can you imagine the indignity he felt? Hearing stories like that from teammates, I can’t help but speak out now.”
When every CPL player united last week in their demonstration, the goal was to inspire viewers watching from home to have difficult but important discussions about racism and other social justice issues. Those same discussions are taking place amongst CPL players right now inside the bubble in Charlottetown.
“It’s the number one topic of discussion, other than the games going on. We all see what’s going on in the world. Whatever we can do in the CPL as players and as a league to elevate these issues, we have to do it. I don’t know if what we did will change anything. It might not. But I think it does raise questions and raises awareness, and that’s a good thing,” De Carolis offered.