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U.S. forward Jozy Altidore says more communication needed to combat racism, discord

Altidore make plea for people to listen

TORONTO — U.S. soccer captain Michael Bradley has shared his political views in recent days. Now Jozy Altidore, his Toronto FC and U.S. teammate, is having his say on trying to end the division south of the border.

Speaking in an MLS Black History Month roundtable video, Altidore makes an eloquent plea for Americans to find a way to discuss their differences.

“It’s hard to talk about politics with people. Everybody has a different view. It’s a passionate topic,” he says. “But I think that’s the first step in terms of reaching, hopefully one day, a place where everybody can be kind of OK with somebody’s else’s opinion. You have to be. Right now the country is so divided in a way that a country like the U.S. shouldn’t be.

“And that’s because we haven’t been listening to each other, whether it be blacks or whites, whether it be Republicans and Democrats. Whatever it is. We need to find a way, a peaceful way to sit down and voice our differences. I know it sounds very cliched but it needs to happen. Because things are going to get worse before they get better. And we don’t want that.”

The roundtable, taped over brunch in New York City and available on www.mlssoccer.com, features Altidore, U.S. women’s international Lynn Williams, New York Times reporter Greg Howard, FC Harlem founder Irv Smalls and moderator Kevin Brown.

The 27-year-old Altidore, who recently won his 100th cap for the U.S., calls America the greatest country in the world. But he says the exchange of views is sorely needed given the current political landscape.

“I love (the U.S.) but I think that conversation needs to happen. It’s a strong conversation, it’s an awkward one but it makes for a better tomorrow, for sure.”

In an interview after training Wednesday, Altidore said people may not agree after that conversation “but at least you understand what is going on on that side and why that side believes what they believe. And I think that’s something that really important and we need to get back to.”

In the video, Altidore says growing up he was inspired by point guard Allen Iverson. “Just the way he played the game, the way he was so competitive and he had such a big heart.”

Soccer in the U.S. has not traditionally offered a way out of poverty the way that sports like basketball or boxing have, but Altidore — who made US$4.8 million last season according to the MLS Players Union — says MLS is “reaching a new plateau now.”

He also talks about the pride he takes in young black kids calling him a role model. “It means a lot,” he said.

Altidore credited MLS for organizing the Black History Month video.

“I thought it was different, I thought it gave a different perspective and I thought it was enlightening. I hope people enjoy it.”

Altidore got his break at age eight when the late Josef Schulz, an Austrian coach who ran a soccer academy in Florida, saw him playing in the park. Schulz, seeing a star in the making, gave Altidore a free ride at the academy when he learned the family couldn’t afford it.

“He let me in. He let me train there for free at a place that was pretty expensive for my family, that they couldn’t afford,” Altidore said. “So I was lucky. If somebody thinks there aren’t many cases like me, then you’re crazy. There’s probably better kids, playing in more rural areas that just don’t have that opportunity.”

“Big dreams” can lead to good landings, he added.

Altidore, whose parents grew up in Haiti, experienced racism while playing in the Netherlands and says simply it’s sad that it still happens.

“And all you can do is hope that those people educate themselves and educate their kids so that they don’t continue to live that kind of lifestyle … It’s a topic that we have to keep talking about it unfortunately until we find a way to move forward with it.”

Altidore says athletes like him are in a “great position” to  speak out at the right times.

“You can always do more,” he said.

While he acknowledged that people don’t tune into a Toronto FC game to hear him speak on Donald Trump, he said conversations on big topics can only help.

Bradley has used interviews and social media to share his views on moves by the Trump administration, from the attempted travel ban to restricting media access.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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