By Rory Carroll
July 8 (Reuters) - Players from the Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF raised their right fists and took a knee before the league's first match in four months on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.
Some players wore t-shirts over their jerseys with the words "Black and Proud" and "Silence is Violence" before the match, and both team's starting players as well as the referees took a knee just before kickoff of the first game of the 'MLS is Back' tournament near Orlando.
The kneeling protest was popularized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, and the gesture has again gained steam after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May.
Floyd's death set off a wave of protests across the U.S. and beyond against systemic racism and police brutality.
The raised fist mirrors the protest against racial inequality by Americans John Carlos and Tommie Smith from the podium of the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.
Kaepernick's protest came during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, but the song was not played on Wednesday and will not be during the tournament because the games are being played in empty stadiums, a measure to slow the spread of coronavirus.
MLS players have also launched Black Players for Change, an organization that aims to make MLS more inclusive and elevate and amplify the voices of the Black community.
Wednesday's MLS match, held inside the so-called "bubble" at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex, marked the first North American professional men's sports league to return to action since the pandemic upended the sports calendar in mid-March.
Players in the National Women's Soccer League took a knee during the playing of the anthem before the first game of their tournament in Utah last month and players in England's Premier League have also adopted the gesture since Floyd's death. (Reporting by Rory Carroll Editing by Gerry Doyle)