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Real Salt Lake's Jordan Allen refuses to #sticktosports

Published March 10, 2017 12:43 pm

Real Salt Lake • Allen's interest in politics was sparked while he recovered from knee surgery in 2014.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jordan Allen usually spends his time probing defenses, but the up-and-coming Real Salt Lake attacker was trying to figure out how to break through something else one day last week.

Allen, dressed in a blazer, blue tie and dark slacks, sat on the Senate floor at the Capitol, flanked by two Utah lawmakers. The 21-year-old peppered Sen. Jim Dabakis and Sen. Luz Escamilla with questions. He asked about running for office, time commitments for an elected state official and what goes into campaigning for a seat.

Soon enough, the two senators joked with the RSL starter. Allen's interest in the subtleties of politics blew away them. They inquired how quickly he'd be willing to run for office.



"But we understand he still has to fulfill a contract with RSL," Escamilla said.

Escamilla has hosted her share of athletes before. Allen's visit to the Capitol on March 1 was different. She'd never come across a professional athlete this young and in-tune with the state of the country.

Then again, the Rochester, N.Y., native, who is in his fourth year with RSL, has proven to be anything but common. Having already dealt with various injuries on the field, he's also figuring out who he is off the field in Utah. He's figured out he's an athlete and activist who wants to be involved for the causes he believes in.

Last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium, as the near-sellout crowd quieted for the national anthem, members of the Utah Army National Guard marched out onto the pitch. Allen pivoted slightly, locating their flags that were whipping in the wind. He swung his right hand from behind his back and placed it over his heart, his fingers grazing the bottom of RSL's crest. At the same time, his left hand was balled up up tightly into a fist, held out by his side.

It was subtle, but as the anthem played and another Major League Soccer season opened, Allen's left hand served as not only a personal statement, but what he calls a sign of the country's splintered political divide.

On the field, Allen's long-awaited moment has arrived. One of eight academy products on RSL's first-team roster in 2017, the preseason was an audition to prove he could be a starter — and he nailed it, scoring two goals and drawing two penalty kicks.

The fist, he explained, isn't a protest. It's his way of acknowledging the nation's ongoing civil unrest. He looked on last fall as NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, causing a coast-to-coast uproar. It inspired Allen, an African-American, to come up with his own statement, something that he felt represents not only himself, but the issues that he would like to see addressed — notably voter suppression and the effect the "War on Drugs" has had on the black community.

"I don't personally feel that acknowledging issues within the country and being a proud American are mutually exclusive," he said.

U.S. Soccer recently caused a stir with its new national anthem policy requiring all players representing the federation to "stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems." Allen wouldn't be in violation, but that doesn't mean the most politically-active guy on the team — perhaps on any professional sports roster in Utah — is sitting down when it comes to the issues he's most passionate about.

When the national anthem came to an end in RSL's season-opener against Toronto FC, the crowd erupted and Allen opened his fist, removed his right hand from his heart and smacked his hands together like everyone else in Rio Tinto Stadium.

Getting involved

It should come as no surprise that the 21-year-old Allen takes to social media to voice his thoughts. And he doesn't hold back. The right-sided attacking player regularly smashes The Right. At 11:52 p.m. on last Nov. 8 — Election Night — Allen drafted a tweet and hit send.

It read: "f—- donald trump and all that he represents"

And there it has stayed, because Allen doesn't waver. When he posts politically-charged tweets, he's received the "#sticktosports" response that is now always a part of the conversation when the sporting world and political realm collide.

Allen has been told to watch what he's saying, that he needs to be a role model to children who watch Allen's him and regularly cheer on No. 70. Each time before he hits the blue tweet button, he scans over what he's about to post and thinks about what the possible responses could be.

"It's important for the voice to be out there, and it's up to other people if they want to agree or not," he said. "I'm not going to keep that from speaking what I want to say."

He describes himself as "very aware" and "intrigued," notl only by the current political climate in the country, but worldwide. He became hooked on current events three years ago, when his rookie campaign was cut short by microfracture knee surgery. He was scanning YouTube clips one day during his recovery and came across a video of the White House Correspondents Dinner. There has been a cascade of subscriptions to news media outlets since then.

Allen spent one year at the University of Virginia in 2013, where he helped a storied Cavaliers program make a run to the NCAA College Cup Final Four. His academic career at UVA was put on hold once he signed a first professional contract that December, but he's still taking classes. Allen is now — surprise — a political science major at Southern New Hampshire University, the educational partner of MLS.

The seismic shift in national politics over the past year — i.e. the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House and the Republican takeover of Congress — has opened his eyes further. He says he now wants to help make "America be what it was intended to be."

Young leader

Allen is constantly seeking out opportunities to learn and be inspired. For instance, he drove to Park City in January to see former White House policy advisor turned CNN political commentator Van Jones speak as part of a panel discussion on criminal justice reform.

RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said the growth he's seen from Allen off the field has been just as vital to his development with his boots laced up. Despite his young age, Beckerman said Allen's taking on more of a leadership role in a team still stocked with veteran voices.

"It's awesome what Jordan's doing, and I agree with most of what he's saying, if not all," Beckerman said. "It's brave of him. He's got a lot of courage. It's great because he's really taking in, trying to be a big part of the community, and I think he feels like Utah is one of his homes now. Obviously we live here, and it's neat to see him get involved like he has."

That Allen is so outspoken publicly doesn't bother the RSL vets.

"Some professional athletes choose to just avoid the subject altogether," RSL right back Tony Beltran said, "but just because he's a higher-profile person doesn't mean he shouldn't take the opportunity to voice his opinion. He's entitled to his right, and I'm glad he's doing it."

Getting a taste

Allen's day at the Capitol was about more than just asking questions. He took a tour of the building and visited the minority caucus offices, Escamilla, the state senator, said. It was the first time Allen's been able to see politics up close and personal, away from the digital bubble of social media.

The day at the Capitol, he said, "was a day [I'll] probably never forget."

After posting a selfie with Allen and Dabakis on Twitter, Escamilla received upwards of 100 new followers in no time. They were all RSL fans. She couldn't believe it. More than a week later, it makes more sense.

"They love him," she said.

Once Kaepernick took a knee, others followed, including Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and U.S. women's national team star Megan Rapinoe. Allen even thought about it himself.

"I understood the reasons for people to not appreciate him sitting down during the national anthem," he said, "but I thought it was a type of protest that didn't harm anybody, shed light on the issue that he wanted to shed light on and was successful. Maybe if I was somewhere else, maybe I would've taken part in that. But being in Utah, I decided to take part in a different way, and I still do."

Stick to sports? For Jordan Allen, it is not an option.

ckamrani@sltrib.com

Twitter: @chriskamrani —

Jordan Allen

Age • 21

Height • 5 foot 11

Weight • 160 pounds

Position • Forward/midfielder

Hometown • Rochester, N.Y.

Statistics • 49 league appearances, 22 starts, four goals, four assists

Acquired • Signed to a Homegrown contract Dec. 31, 2013

Sticking around • Allen signed a long-term contract extension with RSL on Feb. 18

Real Salt Lake at Chicago Fire

At Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

Kickoff • Noon MT Saturday

TV • KMYU

Radio • 700 AM

Records • RSL 0-0-1, Chicago 0-0-1

Last meeting • RSL 3, Chicago 1 (Aug. 6, 2016 at Rio Tinto Stadium)

About RSL • Center backs Justen Glad (knee) and Chris Schuler (foot) are out this weekend, coach Jeff Cassar said. … Glad and Schuler join Aaron Maund (hamstring) as the top three center backs out due to injury. … RSL has won three straight matches against the Fire and is riding a five-game unbeaten streak against Chicago. … Midfielder Albert Rusnák will face off against former FC Groningen teammates Michael de Leeuw and Johan Kappelhof in the game. The three former teammates won the 2015 KNVB Cup while playing together in the Netherlands.

About Chicago • Midfielder John Goossens is expected to be sidelined 5-to-6 months after undergoing ankle surgery this week. … Offseason acquisition Juninho is likely to make his Chicago debut against RSL after missing last week due to suspension. … The Fire are 3-3-4 all-time at home against RSL. … Chicago is coming off a 1-1 road draw at Columbus in the 2017 opener last weekend. … Forward David Accam led the Fire with nine goals in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

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