KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Tyler Adams let out a sigh and put the palms of his hands together as he thought for a moment about how he wanted to address the topic.

Racism has overshadowed the U.S. men’s national team’s preparations for a decisive group stage match against Uruguay on Monday (9 p.m. on FOX and the FOX Sports app), which could end up being the squad’s final game of Copa América. And detracting from their focus is the cruel fact that American players received hateful messages on what Adams called “toxic” social media following a loss to Panama on Thursday.

“For me personally, I don’t really know where to even begin on this topic,” Adams, one of the most respected leaders in this team, said during a news conference on Saturday. “It’s normal at this point — it’s normal. I don’t think anyone could play a bad game, let alone a good game, and not have something on social media afterwards.

“So for me, personally, I don’t even use social media — not for that specific reason, but just for the fact that it’s just toxic everywhere, no matter where you look.”

The USMNT was stunningly defeated by Panama, 2-1, in the group stage match. The game was chippy from the start, but took a turn when Tim Weah was given a red card in the 18th minute and ejected from the match, forcing the Americans to play with 10 men.

Afterward, Weah and his teammates, including fellow Black players Chris Richards and Folarin Balogun, were targets of racist messages on their respective social media accounts. Balogun, who scored the lone goal for the U.S. against Panama, re-posted them on his Instagram to show the kind of abuse endured.

U.S. Soccer issued a statement and said it was “deeply disturbed” by the comments directed at its players.

“There is absolutely no place in the game for such hateful and discriminatory behavior,” the statement said. “These actions are not only unacceptable but also contrary to the values of respect and inclusivity that we uphold as an organization.”

The USSF reported the racist abuse to CONMEBOL, the South American organizers of the tournament, who then issued their own statement condemning the behavior and “attitudes of intolerance in every place and on every occasion, especially those hiding behind social media accounts.”

Postgame Interview: USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter on losing to Panama

This is not the first racism incident that has taken place at Copa América, which is being hosted by the United States. Canadian defender Moise Bombito was targeted after he made a tackle on Lionel Messi during a 2-0 loss to Argentina in the tournament’s opening match. The Canadian Soccer Association made a statement and said it was in communication with CONCACAF and CONMEBOL about the matter.

“It’s disappointing when players on our team obviously have faced that, Canadian players [too] — it’s just, it’s so unnecessary and unneeded in the space of football because football brings so many positive moments for everybody,” Adams said. “Everybody loves the game for so many different reasons and the fact that we’ve allowed this to creep into the game is just horrible.”

Brazilian superstar Vinicius Jr., who scored two goals in a 4-1 rout of Paraguay on Friday, has been a leading voice on this issue. In fact, last year, Brazil passed the “Vini Jr. law” in the wake of the amount of abuse the Real Madrid forward has endured playing in Spain. The law, which aims to combat racism in sporting events, requires the event to pause or end if a racist act takes place.

Earlier this season, Vini Jr. broke down in tears during a news conference while discussing what it’s like to be the subject of such vitriol in stadiums in Spain.

“I’ve been here for a long time watching this, and I feel more and more sad,” Vini Jr. told reporters back in March. “I have less and less will to play. With each complaint made, I feel worse, but I have to appear here and show my face.

“I have asked for help from UEFA, FIFA, CONMEBOL, CBF — they can fight against that. The problem that exists in Spain is that racism is not a crime.”

Perpetrators were arrested over the past year in Spain, but that hasn’t solved the problem or prevented future attacks.

USMNT midfielder Yunus Musah played for Valencia in Spain for several years and was on the pitch when fans cheering for his own club directed discriminatory chants toward Vinicius during a match against Real Madrid. In April, Weston McKennie, who plays for Italian club Juventus, was the victim of similar sentiments coming from Lazio fans during a Coppa Italia semifinal match. McKennie, like Musah, is Black.

“I think there’s a lot of anger in people,” McKennie recently told FOX Sports. “From a personal experience, I feel like if they really got to know the person I am, if they really got to know these people individually, then they might not say the same thing. But obviously the world is going to be the world, and people are going to be people, and it’s hard to change everyone.

“But I think, especially with Vinicius Jr. actively and still protesting against it — you saw in Spain they arrested the people that were going after him and continuously racially abusing him. I think that’s a step forward in the football world and the world in general. You want to act ignorant, you get punished for it. Hopefully, it just continues to improve.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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