by Michael Lewis

Someone like you.

Those three words are seared into the memory of Logan Roberts.

Someone like you.

 The Utica City FC defender could not forget those words uttered by policemen after he was stopped in two separate incidents for speeding several years ago.

It wasn't that he was pulled over, but how Roberts, a Black man, was treated.

Someone like you.

These might seem like minor incidents to many. Roberts did not suffer any physical harm, but it still was an unsettling reminder of how people can be judged by the color of their skin. It made a lasting impression on him.

"Especially my father being a police officer, that's always been something that I had felt strongly about and interested in," he said earlier this week. "I grew up middle class in a suburban area of Syracuse. I haven't had a whole lot of run-ins with the police or anything like that. So, everything I had seen, read and heard was from someone else's perspective. That was the first time in my life that I'd actually experienced it. That definitely stuck with me." 

Roberts, in his fifth season in the Major Arena Soccer League, considered himself to be "very laid back" and quiet. One of his teammates called him "King Chill.” 

He grew up in a middle-class family in Syracuse, N.Y. His father, Aaron, a former New York State Trooper, is Black. His grandfather was a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II. His mother, Anne, is White.

"I went to a mostly White high school. I played soccer which in the U.S., especially where I was playing, most kids who played were also White," he said. "Race is something I never really talked about, but it's something I thought about all the time." 

While he played several sports, soccer captured Roberts’ heart. It was a way to have fun, compete and express himself.

"As I got older, I really started to fall in love with it," Roberts said. "It differs from most sports, especially here in the states. I like the flow of the game. People always talk about how the sport is an art form. I do really feel like soccer is an art; a lot of it falls to the eye of the beholder.

"I was able to find my own style, my own kind of artistic style that was different from everyone else's."

 Roberts was team captain Cicero-North Syracuse High School and was named an All-Central New York selection as a senior. He also played for Syracuse FC before attending Binghamton University, where he was a four-year starter, playing as a graduate student after he red-shirted his freshman year. Roberts also was a regular member of the America East Honor Roll as a psychology major.

Prior to his final season in 2016, Roberts had his first police encounter. The Bearcats' first day of preseason included a ton of paperwork to fill out and sign.

"It's like a four-hour day," said Roberts, who admitted he wanted to get home and that he wasn't "in a great mood."

He quickly drove off the campus and police immediately pulled him over.

"I stopped, got out my license and the police officer walked up to the window," Roberts said. "He looked in and after seeing me and putting the flashlight [on him]. He called his partner also to come up. As it was happening, I didn't really think a whole lot of it. But I was like, 'That's weird that you would he ask for someone else.' They started to ask me some questions. What was I doing? Why? Where was I coming from?"

When Roberts reached for his glove compartment to get his registration, the partner, standing at the passenger window, reached for his holster. 

"That was the first time that anything like that happened to me," he said. "I got the registration, and I gave it to him. The police officer said that they had to check out someone like me coming off campus. They went back to the car, and they left. I just sat there for a minute and processed that. 

"There was no other reason that either of those things could have happened except for the way that I looked. That was the first time I'd really ever [had] that encounter with the police. ... The thing that stuck with me was when he said 'someone like you' coming off campus."

In his piece on TheOdyesseyOnLine.com, Roberts said he felt "helpless, in the truest sense of the word."

A few days later, his mother saw a TV segment about what Black men should do if they were stopped by police. She sent it to their son.

"After a co-worker wanted to send it to her children, but my mom tried to explain to her that it wasn't the same for her kids because they were white," Roberts wrote on TheOdysseyOnLine.com. "My parents realized they were helpless, too. They did everything in their power to give my brother and I the best life possible. They raised us to have great respect for everyone, especially law enforcement, and in that moment none of it could have mattered. Why would their child, whose never been in a fight in his life, ever be a threat? They realized that the answer was related to the color of my skin, and it scared them."

In 2017, Roberts was involved in another incident. As a volunteer assistant coach at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, he had returned home with the team from a road trip. It was around 2:30 in the morning and Roberts wanted to hang out at a friend's house in suburban Manlius, an affluent suburb.

 "I was going a little fast," he said earlier this week. "It was late and there's no one else in the road. I didn't really think anything of it. I had gone up and down over a hill and turned right into the neighborhood. It was just right bottom of the hill when I saw the [police car's] lights come on. I pulled right over. He came up and he flashes his flashlight inside. I gave him my license. He was like, 'Well, what were you doing?' I was like, 'I'm just going to a friend's house.’ “

The policeman then asked Roberts why he pulled off into the road. Was he trying to get away?

No was his reply.

Questions became repetitive.

"He looked at my license and then [he asked]: 'Where you going?' I said I was going to a friend's house. He said, 'Do you have drugs in the car?' I said, 'No, I'm just late. I just got back from a trip, and I was going to a friend's house.' He called for backup. He went back to his car and waited for a minute. Then came back and said, 'Really, where were you going?' I said going to a friend's house and I gave him the name of the person whose house I was going to." 

Roberts pointed out the house.

The policeman asked him again he said: "Do you have anything you have anything illegal in the car?" Roberts said. "I said no. 'I'm just going to a friend's house this morning.' "

Three more police cars showed up.

"There were four police cars lined up behind mine and his backup came up to the window and asked again 'Do you have any drugs in the car?' I said no. They ran the name of the house that I gave them. The policeman said: ‘You know the only reason that I'm not going to do anything tonight is because you gave me the correct address.’

"He said it was weird to see someone like me out here and weird that I had pulled into a neighborhood right after he put his lights on, thinking that I was trying to get away. He said that I was lucky and just go home. I said, 'Don't have to worry [because] I'm going home.’ I was very upset that point; very annoyed.

"At that point, all the cops are laughing. I just sat there again. It was the same thing that stuck with me from the previous encounter. The police officer said that the reason he pulled me over was because it was someone like me."

 That phrase again.

"I just sat there, thinking about what happened and everything that he had said, and the backup had said, and how many times they asked me if I had drugs in the car and what I was doing in that kind of neighborhood," Roberts said. "I didn't tell anybody about that. I was just so embarrassed. I just felt ashamed for no reason, kind of humiliated by a couple of police officers for no reason."

Over the last few years, several major incidents and deaths of Black men and women have led to a change for many athletes who have spoken out on the issues. When George Floyd was murdered by a policeman in 2020, and several other tragic incidents prompted Roberts to share his feelings in a 3,700-word story on TheOdysseyOnLine.com.

The headline: To End Systemic Racism, Black People Need To Be Heard  - We don't need you to feel sorry for us, we need you to empathize with us.

 "These past few weeks have been some of the toughest in my lifetime," Roberts wrote. "Something needs to be done, people are still losing their lives because of the color of their skin. In order for change, I can't be quiet anymore. This isn't political, and this isn't just about how I'm feeling at this moment. We, the Black people in this country, need our voices to be heard and our messages finally understood, because this time needs to be different."

Roberts said he started to write the post on his cell phone. It took two weeks to complete it.

"I wasn't trying to really make a statement or anything like that," he said. "I was just trying to tell my story. … I wrote it for myself and thought a couple people might read it, and that would be it."

It wasn't.

 "More people than I could have ever expected ended up reading the article," Roberts said. "I had people reach out immediately, friends of mine and people thanked me for writing, which is not something that I really ever expected. I had parents of my friends reach out and call me and tell me that they really liked it and that I made it made them think about a different way. I had a couple of friends shared it with their family members. That actually prompted them to have like a real conversation in a family gathering, which was really incredible.” 

Over the past two years, more athletes have spoken out for various causes.

"It's great that athletes are being more open about the things in their lives that affect them because the following we have especially now is so large," Roberts said. "They can affect change, not only because they have this massive platform to talk about it, but because they are role models to so many kids and so many people."

Roberts realized he wasn’t in the same orbit as some of the biggest superstars on the planet, but he knew that he had to set a proper example.

"We should all carry ourselves as role models because there's always people that are in our lives,” he said. “We may not think about the things that we say and the things that we do affect the actions and the thoughts and the decision making of everyone around us. 

"A lot of kids come out and support us. We have a lot of fans in Utica,” he said. “One of the best things about playing is that we have incredible fans. Whether it be kids that follow me on social media or kids that come to our games, whether I see myself as a role model I think I definitely feel a need to carry myself as one. I understand the fact that there are kids out there, people that see what I do, not only on the field, but off the field, [but] what I do on social media, whatever I decide to talk about or when I talk to fans after the game. I definitely feel like a role model, for sure."

Logan Roberts has gotten off to a pretty good start.


Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, was published this week. You can purchase it at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.