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8 minutes, 46 seconds of silence marks MLS return

Almost 200 Major League Soccer players stood in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in Florida to honor George Floyd Wednesday night before the first MLS game since the pandemic shutdown.

The group of players, dressed in black T-shirts, black masks and black gloves, raised their right arms one at a time while standing in midfield as part of a demonstration against racial injustice. The movement was organized by Black Players for Change, which was created after Floyd's May death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Players wore T-shirts with slogans like Black And Proud, Silence Is Violence and Black All The Time while demonstrating at the MLS is Back tournament held at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex in Disney World.

Some players from Orlando City and Inter Miami knelt during the protest and then participated in a separate moment of silence before the opening kick-off, The Associated Press reported.

Black Players for Change originally formed on Juneteenth this year with the name Black Players Coalition of MLS before changing the name last week. The group intends to combat systemic racism in soccer and players' communities and has received endorsements from the league and players' union, the AP noted.

The group has requested that MLS increase diversity hiring in coaching, front office and executive jobs, designate a chief diversity officer and integrate implicit bias training and culture education.

"Really this protest is about fighting for racial equality and human rights," organizer Justin Morrow of Toronto FC said, according to the AP. "We're standing with all of our brothers and sisters across the world - definitely across the North American sports landscape."

The World Cup-style tournament began Wednesday after MLS and most other sports leagues shut down in March amid the coronavirus pandemic. The league is still not hosting fans and previously decided it would not play the national anthem for games without a crowd. 

Black Players for Change announced this week that it would partner with the Players Coalition, the NFL's organization that works to address social justice and racial inequality. The NFL group formed in 2017 after debates over kneeling during the national anthem.

Floyd died after a now-former police officer knelt on his neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd said he couldn't breathe and became unresponsive. It had previously been reported the officer was on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, which has become a symbol in protests against police brutality.

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