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The Sons of Ben march to send a message.

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It has been a slow start to the Philadelphia Union season, and the Sons of Ben board decided enough was enough - it was time to give the front office a message.

The Sons of Ben Leadership out front in the protest march (Photo courtesy Barry Evans)
The Sons of Ben Leadership out front in the protest march (Photo courtesy Barry Evans)

Last week, I wrote an article that mentioned a tweet from Philadelphia Union fans representitive Mark Evans about what a Sons of Ben protest would accomplish. Minutes after it was published, I coincidentally got a message from Sons of Ben Vice President Ami Rivera to give me a heads up that there would be a protest at Sunday night's game.

It had been all quiet before then from the Sons of Ben board, but that doesn't mean they weren't considering all options internally:

When we consider the way the season has gone, of course we aren't happy. No one likes losing. No one likes to see the injuries, bad calls and issues on the pitch plaguing us. While we still feel it's early on in the season, and some of thing issues are out of everyone's control such as injuries, the increasing discontent from the membership prompted us to respond. Whether we agree with sending a message or not, we represent a membership and the response from our members has been to become more vocal. We feel this message we sent today best represents what feedback we've heard. I don't know if I would call this a protest. It's the collective message of our members who feel we deserve a better performance.

In terms of what to do, this has been a struggle from the beginning and several questions as to what message to send, how to deliver it, and when it should happen have been a topic of discussion at every board meeting for a month. It's taken time to hear from our members, try to be patient and allow our team to work these things out, and decide what to do.

(Ami Rivera - Sons of Ben Vice President)

SOB coffin

The Sons of Ben carrying a message specifically for Nick Sakiewicz - Photo courtesy Barry Evans

To me, the timing of the march was also interesting. It was a live game on Fox Sports 1, and D.C. United were in town for the joint Eric Shertz Memorial Tailgate. However, when asked about whether the TV publicity added to the reason to have the march on Sunday, Ami said it was not part of the discussions on when to make the statement. She was even more blunt when asked whether having United fans join in a show of solidarity and take part in the march:

DC was not made aware of our plans and was not asked to be a part of this.

(Ami Rivera - Sons of Ben Vice President)

There is always a question when organizing any protest about whether you are doing the right thing, what is the message you want to get across, and what would be the best way of getting that message across. This is even harder when you are making a statement for a group of over 2,000 people. In the end, the decision was made to march from the tailgate to the stadium and Toyota Plaza. They would not go into the stadium, and the reasoning for this was explained as follows:

There's no right answer to how we went about this. Some people felt it should be inside and others were happy with it being on the march. To us, inside the stadium, we go to work. We cheer, we chant, we support. Not showing the team that backing is a disservice to them. Doing it on the march brought as much attention as we needed.

(Ami Rivera - Sons of Ben Vice President)

Note - on Facebook there was a discussion about whether the coffin should have been taken into the stadium. Those who were carrying the coffin mentioned that they were told they would not be allowed to enter with it.

Within the group, there will always be differing views about whether the right thing was done. The fact only a few hundred took part at any point in the match may have been a disappointment to the board. This may be especially true as there have been calls for protests by members who may not have taken part in the march, instead deciding on other ways to protest. However, when asked about any disappointment I got the following reply:

I'm not disappointed by the turn out. The people who marched were the ones who wanted their message carried. Others maybe who weren't able to be at the game were still able to feel supported by what we did. I do think that it highlights the struggle we went through to even make this decision on the message we sent. This isn't unified. There are people who maybe don't agree with it. From the onset Kenny (Hanson, Sons of Ben President), myself and the board held back because we didn't want to speak for everyone. So this became an option to choose whether or not to participate.

Social media can be deceiving as to exactly how many people are behind any one movement. I think it gives those calling for more grandiose gestures to rethink how many people would actually support that action and perhaps settle for a more unified message in saying we just want better results and a commitment to provide it.

(Ami Rivera, Sons of Ben Vice President)

The march certainly got plenty of attention as needed, as it was mentioned throughout the national TV broadcast. Not only was it mentioned many times by Alexi Lalas, but it has created discussion throughout the league, including whether or not the Union fans do really deserve better.

SOB march.

The front of the Sons of Ben statement march - Photo courtesy Barry Evans

It is also important to note that while the march was carried out, it wasn't the option that all fans would have taken. While everyone is there to support the team, they do so in their own way. For some, while losing isn't fun, it doesn't take away from the reasons to go to the Union games. One opinion I was given about the march:

While it is something I don't agree with, the Sons of Ben as a whole wanted something and this is it. For me, I go to every game I can because it is something I love. Going to matches is an escape from the everyday life struggles and woes. So if they win, amazing! if they tie, ok, we got a point. If they lose, oh well, at least I got to spend hours with my second family.

I suppose I just feel that there are much more important things to protest in the world than a struggling team

(Anonymous Sons of Ben Member)

Not only were the Sons of Ben worried that their message may be misconstrued if any protest entered the stadium, they also made sure the players knew they believed in them. It went as far as creating a special tifo that was allowed to hang in the tunnel as the players went out.

SOB - Players Believe

"Believe" tifo for the players as they would enter the stadium - Tifo by Kevin Leonowich, photo credit to SoB Tifo

Having such a wide ranging set of opinions certainly doesn't make it easy, and one message that the Sons of Ben leadership are making sure gets to their members is:

We want to continue to relay to the membership we are accessible to them. We hear them. If anyone has questions, comments, suggestions or other- we encourage them to reach out to us and begin the conversation.

(Ami Rivera, Sons of Ben Vice President)

There you have it. The march is over, message is sent. Nick Sakiewicz released a statement and MLS-wide people took notice. It is up to the Front Office whether or not they show that the message is going to change how things are done. As of right now, we have received no comments from the Front Office other than the statement.

If nothing else,  then that is now two different protests (after the Bearfight Brigade blackout) and two wins following them.

(Also, apologies for the lack of game changer article this week. If you protest the lack of effort on my part I will certainly listen to you.)