Thursday, May 13, 2021

Desmond Armstrong On Race And His Unlikely Path To The USMNT

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Like many of his U.S. former national team teammates, Desmond Armstrong is a voice of wisdom and experience. 

After all, the 2012 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee has seen and lived much during his decades in soccer as a player, coach and administrator. 

He was an indoors and outdoors standout. He represented the U.S. at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. He and good friend Jimmy Banks were the first Black players born in the United States to perform for the USA at a FIFA World Cup (Italia ’90). He became the first American to sign with the famed Santos club in Brazil. He went on to coach college and youth soccer and is co-founder and director of Heroes Football Association in Nashville, Tenn. 

As a Black man, the 55-year-old former defender can put things into perspective, on the field and off it, during these racially charged times. 

“Something I tell my kids. This is the quote: ‘If you don’t tell your story, other people will tell stories about you,’ ” he said in a recent interview. “So, it’s important for us to make sure we educate people on what has come before them.” 

Armstrong has seen and experienced enough to tell Black children – his own (seven) and others – to understand the unwritten rules of the road. 

“I have three sons,” he said. “I’m constantly telling them to be aware of their surroundings. Also, make sure they have everything that they need in terms of documentation. When you get pulled over, make sure you have both your hands on the steering wheel.” 

Armstrong said that he has been stopped many times, including only a block away from his Nashville home. It was getting dark after a training session at Belmont University, and he realized he did not have his lights on when he turned onto a main road. He turned them on. A policeman noticed, did a U-turn and caught up with Armstrong. 

Not only was Armstrong issued a ticket, the policeman took his thumb print and picture. 

“I’m getting thumb printed for a moving violation,” he said. “I have to go into court and debate this. What is the deal? My son was with me. He was in the passenger side. You fear for yourself that if something goes down wrong if I say a wrong word or say it the wrong way, is this dude [policeman] going to go off on me right in front of my kid?” 

It has seemed 2020 has been defined by racial incidents, headlined by the murder of George Floyd in May. That spurred protests. 

Armstrong gave his children his blessing to protest Floyd’s death – with some sage advice. 

“You’re young, you’re moved by this, but understand who you’re following, who you’re joining with the leadership, whatever movements and protests, you’re going to be a part of,” he said. “There are a lot of different organizations. Fully understand who those organizations are.” 

Taking a stand is nothing new to Desmond Armstrong. 

Born in Washington, D.C., Armstrong’s early years were spent . . . 

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