I’ve Got Some Things to Say About Our Country’s Gun Problem
When I played in Europe, I used to get asked the same question a lot from my teammates in the locker room:
“Why does America have so many shootings?”
I got asked that every time a mass shooting incident made the news across the Atlantic, which was seemingly every other week, right? And, honestly, I didn’t know how to respond.
“We have the second amendment.... It is what it is.”
That’s the way I thought about it. There wasn’t a way to fix it. There was certainly nothing I could do about it. I think, like a lot of people, I was in a bubble and I was kinda numb to it.
But travel opens your mind like nothing else. I left the States to play soccer abroad straight after college and only returned in 2016. Struggling to find answers for those questions as a young player in locker rooms across Europe changed my perspective.
My teammates came from countries where they don’t have to worry about gun violence. It just isn’t an issue. My wife is Norwegian. She’s from a place where, for the most part, you don’t have to think about locking your door, let alone plan exit strategies every time you go into a public space, or worry about your kids’ safety at school. When we first met in France, she would ask me the same questions as my teammates.
Look, before we get into it, I don’t want this article to be anti-America. It’s not about that. I’m not about that. I think America is a great country, but we are also the only developed country with this level of gun violence. Mass shootings? School shootings? No one else comes close. We’re an anomaly. That’s a fact. And there are plenty of other great countries out there that we can learn from, because what we are dealing with is an epidemic.
This is a complex issue, for sure, but it’s not enough to accept it and say, “It is what it is.”
There’s a question that we, as Americans, need to ask:
Why do we live like this?
When the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School happened in February 2018, it was a turning point for me.
I grew up in Weston, in South Florida. Parkland was literally 15 minutes away from where I lived. I knew the community. When the news came in, I had a vivid picture in my mind of the actual building and the sports complex. I relived the times I played soccer against Douglas and the countless pickup games I played on those fields with friends that went to school there.
It felt so close.
I think you can get accustomed to seeing these terrible stories on the news and thinking that it’d never happen to you, your neighborhood. Let me tell you, if it can happen here in Parkland, it can happen anywhere. This was an affluent neighborhood. I’m talking gated communities, upper-middle-income families, a really good school. It’s not the place you’d ever imagine anything bad happening.
Of course, regardless of the neighborhood, this kind of senseless tragedy shouldn’t happen anywhere. Period.
Even more personal than my own connection was the fact that one of my teammates at the Union lost one of his best friends that day. That hit hard.
Something in my psyche clicked. It wasn’t enough to just keep on having conversations among ourselves in the locker room. I knew I needed to use whatever platform I have to do something.
I started voicing my opinion on social media and becoming more informed. I joined Everytown For Gun Safety — America’s largest gun violence prevention organization.
I knew there would be some backlash, some Twitter trolls and “shut up and dribble” style comments, but I’ve been around long enough to put that to one side. Yeah, I’m a soccer player, but before that I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a neighbor. I’m a community member. We need to talk about this stuff. Some things really are bigger than sports.
When I went “viral” after grabbing the mic and yelling my message to Congress on the field after scoring against D.C. United in August 2019, it wasn’t something I’d planned — if you know my game you’ll know I never score and I didn’t even know if the mic was hot — but it just felt like the right thing to do in the moment.
Yeah, I’m a soccer player, but before that I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a neighbor. I’m a community member. We need to talk about this stuff. Some things really are bigger than sports.- Alejandro Bedoya
We’d just witnessed the massacres in El Paso and Dayton within 24 hours of each other that week. It was the only thing on the news in my hotel room before the game. I couldn’t not think about it.
The response I received after the game was overwhelming. I got a lot of private messages from survivors as well as from family members of those who were lost. Reading their stories was gut-wrenching — these people who had been through unimaginable tragedy and felt that their voices weren’t being heard. That pushed me to continue speaking out and being an advocate for change.
I’ll never accept that this is just a part of life. I’ve got two kids of my own. I can’t allow this stuff to be normalized for them.
I saw a video just the other day of six-year-olds(!!!) talking with their parents about the roles they have to play at school in case of an active shooter. One has to move the desk here, the other has to lock the door, another has to open a closet.
The idea that this is the reality we are living in … wow, I don’t even know what to say.
Show that video to anyone in any other developed country and ask what they think.
Twice in my life I’ve had the experience of getting text messages telling me and my wife that my kids’ day-care center had gone into lockdown due to situations around the facility — once because of a shooting nearby and once because of a suspicious person in the area. As a parent those moments are terrifying. How can you not fear the worst? A shiver goes up your spine, your heart starts racing and your mind goes to places you don’t want it to go.
I’ll say it very clearly: Parents should not have to send kids to school fearing that they may never come home.
Kids should not have to worry about lockdown drills like they’re spending their day in some prison, rather than a safe space of learning.
No one should have to plan an exit strategy every time they go to the grocery store, the theater, or their place of worship.
How is that freedom? How is that America?
Philadelphia has struggled with the issue of gun violence alongside poverty and inequality for a long time. And in the last few years it’s only gotten worse.
Honestly, when we moved here after I joined the Union in 2016, some of the realities my wife was confronted with as a foreigner came as a complete culture shock. And it’s heartbreaking, because I love Philly. It’s the only place I’ve put down roots in my adult life. It’s where my kids are growing up.
I love its vibrancy and diversity. In many ways, I think Philly embodies the American dream. It’s blue-collar, hardworking and resilient — those are all the qualities I try to display as a soccer player. There’s a grittiness to the city. The people can be blunt — if you have a bad game, they’ll tell you all about it, but I love that too! Because the people here care. They have such passion for their sports teams and for their community.
It’s also a city at the forefront of a lot of positive change socially and culturally, and I’m proud to play my part. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be a part of the Philadelphia Equity Alliance, which formed after George Floyd. It’s a group that involves a bunch of major business, community and civic leaders in the city with the mission of making Philly a safer and more equitable place to live.
One of the programs I have been involved with through the mayor’s office and the city of Philadelphia is called Group Violence Intervention (GVI) — which is an evidence-based approach that uses community members to engage directly with the small percentage of the population who are most at risk of becoming involved in gun violence.
In a nutshell, it’s an outreach program focussed on deterrence, targeting individuals who are most susceptible to getting involved in gun crime and offering them pathways to counseling, education, social services and even employment opportunities — which is huge.
The whole thing is driven by the community — through the involvement of teachers, clergy, parents, churchgoers, police and those with lived experience as victims or perpetrators of gun violence.
It can be very powerful. And more than that, it works. I've seen first-hand the data from the folks who are behind it, showing that it is making lives better in Philadelphia. A University of Pennsylvania study actually just came out that showed that there was a 38.6% reduction in gun violence per week in those communities where GVI is deployed.
This stuff takes a big collaborative effort and it’s so important to have a major MLS sponsor like Audi supporting the Philadelphia Equity Alliance through the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund.
When I was coming through as a young player, it was still rare for professional athletes to speak out on social issues or to get involved with advocacy. A lot of players worried about doing anything that might hurt their career down the line. But I’m grateful that the dynamic has shifted. We’re in a place now where athletes are not only much more comfortable engaging in discussions on the issues that really matter, but they also are actually being backed by their clubs, the leagues and sponsors, who are having a real positive impact by spotlighting and helping to finance causes like this.
Listen, we still need a lot of change. There’s a long way to go. We need more support for programs like the GVI in Philadelphia and we need lawmakers across the country to pass more common sense gun laws that the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Americans want. But we have made strides in recent years.
I was at the White House last year when the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed by President Biden. That’s the first time in 30 years that major gun safety legislation has been passed in this country. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
I don’t demand anything of anyone, but the one thing I’ve learned from working with Everytown and the community groups in Philadelphia is that people have power. Everybody’s voice matters. Your voice matters. I’ve seen the rhetoric improve since the days when I began speaking out. People aren’t just accepting that “it is what it is” anymore. A lot of that is down to the younger generation. It’s so encouraging to look at their attitudes and how they are using the full power of social media and peaceful demonstration to drive change. Kids growing up now aren’t stuck in the same old ways of thinking and they’re fed up with a lack of change from their politicians and lawmakers. They won’t stand for it. That's why, despite everything, I feel optimistic.
In the end, this isn’t even a partisan issue. We all want the same things, right?
We all want to go to school, to work, to enjoy movies, to shop, to pray – free from fear.
Personally, I hope my kids end up traveling like I did.
There’s really no better education.
And when they’re old enough, whatever year that is, wherever they go, my hope is that they don’t get asked the same question I did.
I hope we have come to our senses.
I am tired of not being able to answer the question ...
The Audi Goals Drive Progress program will continue to support those making an impact off the pitch through financial contributions to nonprofit organizations that create sustainable communities, foster equity and inclusion, and enrich the lives of those in need. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund, Audi will be providing $20,000 to the Philadelphia Equity Alliance in celebration of the work that both the organization and Alejandro do for their community.
Stay tuned for more stories on Audi's commitment to supporting MLS athletes and their community initiatives throughout our "Celebrating Impact" content series.