San Jose Earthquakes Striker Jeremy Ebobisse has excelled in every facet of his career, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch, he’s amongst Major League Soccer's (MLS) most-dynamic Strikers, ranking fifth in the league in goals scored this season. Off the pitch, Jeremy serves as the Vice President of Black Players for Change, an MLS-player led non-for-profit dedicated to eliminating the racial gap not just in professional soccer, but in society.
Before being drafted fourth overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and beginning his MLS career that same year with the Portland Timbers, Jeremy starred for two seasons at Duke University, earning a spot on the 2015 All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Team and the title of Team Captain as a Sophomore.
The same year Jeremy broke into professional soccer, he was also selected to represent Team USA at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he scored two goals in three matches. Ebobisse also competed on the international stage for the Senior USMNT in 2019, appearing in a Friendly against Panama.
After really breaking out in 2020 with the Timbers, Jeremy sustained a concussion, forcing him out of the final five regular season matches. During the 2021 season, Ebobisse was then traded to San Jose.
While flourishing with his new club this season, Ebobisse discussed his career, his philanthropic efforts, his battles with concussions and why, starting this season, he’s been wearing the Q-Collar:
What are your interests outside of soccer?
“Outside of soccer. I enjoy playing the piano, reading books, spending time with my friends and really touring and the city that I'm residing in or visiting on away trips.”
What do you typically do in your free time?
“In my free time, especially after training on weekdays, I'm usually looking to connect with other players in the league and see kind of like-minded interest when it comes to activism or when it comes to just general social conditions, issues within the city and seeing kind of where we have synergy if there are ways to collaborate. I think it's really cool to utilize different people's individual expertise to amplify a message, or partner with kind of some of the non-for-profits who are already doing work on the ground. I think building off of that through art is a really unique way that I see a lot of people do art. Whether it’s in the form of on apparel, a video series as well as just digital art. Those have been some cool things. The league has so many players from so many different neighborhoods, countries, nationalities and all these various experiences kind of help create a more refined but also expanded view of the world. When you do want to assess and kind of address some of the issues in your communities, you've got a wider perspective having spoken to the guys around the league.
What excites you the most about your passion for activism?
“What excites me most about the activism side of my life and my passions is the potential to kind of leave the world better off than the world that I came in and kind of focusing on my individual niche, which is soccer, and making sure that black kids who are have been underrepresented within the sport feel like they have a future in it. Whether it's at the collegiate level, professional level, on the business side of sports, in the soccer operations side, working at each individual level within the pyramid to make sure that that opportunity is as evenly or more evenly distributed among the various constituencies because we have a great sport, a worldwide sport that truly everyone plays in this world. But what we see in this country is that it has not always reflected the world cultural opportunity that it should have. So that's something that's I'm really passionate about. A lot of players in the league are as well. Little by little, I think people in the wider ecosystem are recognizing the kind of disconnect between our values, which are inclusivity, which are diversity and just respecting and promoting others. I think we're recognizing a little bit of that disconnect and working to remedy that. So yeah, that takes up a wider portion of my time off the field.”
Tell us about the organization you are involved with that is working to bridge the racial equity gap in sport.
“The organization that we work with in the MLS was co-founded by several of us called Black Players for Change. We started in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, and really have grown since. We've been welcomed by a bunch of partners and the league as well. Conversations and some of the actions have been positive, tangible steps forward. But the work takes more than a day, a week, a month, a year, and it takes a lasting commitment from people in charge, people in position of power ownership at the league level in order to move forward. So that's one that's really important within the sport of soccer and then just throughout kind of crossing over into all sport as well as politics. I would say Players Coalition has been a huge a huge influence in how I digest information, disseminate it, understand kind of the back-room processing of getting laws passed, of meeting with non-profits and activists, organizers kind of putting everything together. They've opened my eyes in a lot of ways. They've provided me with a ton of opportunities to be influential at a local level and nationally if I chose to go that route as well. Players Coalition, they’ve been doing the work I think since 2016 and it's been super impactful, and their record speaks for itself and super proud to be associated with that.”
Have you always been the kind of leader that you are now? When do you feel like you came into your own as a leader?
“I think that leadership quality is a little bit more recent of a discovery. Throughout my career as a professional, I've kind of had to take ownership of my role in order to advance it, because when you come in as a rookie and I'm playing, at some point you recognize that really no one's looking after you. You have to look after yourself. And I think that that's kind of a personal leadership quality that people don't necessarily recognize. But when young players do understand that there is a squad of 20 to 28 really talented players, some vastly more experienced than you, you need to find a way to swim in that big pond. If not, you're going to sink. I think that understanding what it took to get to where I'm at currently in my career has allowed me to share that information with younger players and then also translate into an aura of leadership and some of the work I do off the field. When I first got into the league, it was much more individual. I was having conversations on my own with individual players, kind of just very behind the scenes, maybe sharing my thoughts from time to time on Twitter. But I didn't have an organizational backing to feel like I could change any minds or inspire any change at a corporate or structural level. As the window of opportunity appeared to do that, taking leadership was a priority for myself, as well as for several others. I think I've got strong family values that prepared me for moments like these and hopefully will propel me into further action.”
What is your playing style?
“I think my playing style is dependent on what the team needs, frankly. Sometimes, that adaptability has caused some difficulties in my career where maybe I was put in positions that I personally was not able to excel in the way that I expect myself to. But some of those difficulties also allow me to grow and enhance my skill set, understand other players points of view and perspectives so that I was a more complete and holistic player. When I look at what the team and individual sectors of the field needed in order to be successful, I think I've been kind of trapped into this role of being only a target forward, which is just again what my team needed at that time. I was happy to play that role because it put me on the field and it allowed me to work on holding the ball up, which I think is a skill that's invaluable. All strikers should know how to do it regardless of size or speed. But there's more to my game than that, and I think it's important that I at least take solace in the fact that, yes, I am technical enough to link up the play and to have that freedom of movement to allow wingers to make aggressive runs in behind. But ultimately, as a striker, you have to be a goal scorer. I think that I can score goals in a variety of ways. When I'm in form, I can score goals that not very many strikers can. That's why I take most pride in being able to score and being able to open up spaces for my teammates to score.”
What physical tools do you need to be a good soccer player?
“The physical attributes needed to excel in soccer are different by position. Generally speaking, you want to have a good engine. You want to be able to run at different speeds for a long period of time. I think the longer and faster you can run, the more successful you're going to be because you can be better at making up for other deficiencies. You want to be technically sound. If you can be technically sound and think quickly, then it doesn't matter how much or how hard you run because you'll always be in the right position. You always make the right decision. You won't lose the ball very often, and then you adapt to that introspective position.”
How would your teammates describe you?
“I think my teammates would describe me as someone who overthinks certain situations, who is pretty serious a lot of the time, sometimes to a fault, but also someone who is relatable, who will go the extra mile for the team and for the individual, both personally and professionally. Ultimately, when the time is right, someone who can have that can have a good time with, but someone who wants to win at all times of the day and make sure that he's in a position to feel like he's ready to perform, even if they don't necessarily agree with what I'm doing.”
Did you always want to be a professional soccer player?
“Part of me always wanted to be a professional soccer player. It's kind of a fantasy idea that I never felt could come true, but something that I always wanted to do. I remember joking with my parents about it as a child, but I think at the age of 15 is when it really became clear that I was able to do that for a career. I had the opportunity to go train with a couple of teams overseas, and it was framed to me as a training opportunity. Because that's the way it was put, I felt no pressure. I went in, and I performed really well. And next thing I knew, they wanted me to stay. It turns out it had been a trial. I think I was a little naive to the way that pro sports and pro soccer works in this country and around the world. So, I went in with the mentality that it's cool, I'm just going to show up and see what happens. That took a lot of the burden off and allowed me to earn that opportunity. For whatever reason, it didn't quite work out on my end, which is why I ended up going to school. But once I spent time overseas, those three weeks to a month throughout two trips, I knew that being a professional soccer player was within the possibilities, and I wanted to do everything I could to get there.”
What was your first taste of the professional soccer system overseas like?
“That experience was eye opening. I was greeted by a personal driver to take me from the host family I was staying with to the training facility. When I got to the training facility, I was expecting to have to find my own way around and find my way to the field, which I had been used to doing in the club soccer setup. Club soccer was organized for what it was, but nowhere near as professional as where you'd want to be if you want to get to that level. But again, I was greeted by kind of a caretaker of the Trialists and Academy players. He gave me a tour around the facility, and took me into the locker room, which I’d never had up until that point. I'd come to the field already dressed and get on the field as quickly as possible once the five teams that were training and sharing the field before were done. I walked out and I saw the 6 to 8 perfectly cut fields, and I just knew that I was in a different world. I saw the way the players moved and the dedication that they put to trying to make the jump from 14, to 16, to 18, to 21 and then to the first team. And yeah, I knew that what I experienced in America was a taste of what a soccer environment can be. And since then, things have changed a lot. It's been ten years since that trial. To see how far the U.S. has come in terms of development of the game, the infrastructure around it and again, starting to improve accessibility to the sport. it's scary where, you know, players that are developed in this country can go.”
Are potential head injuries something that you worry about?
“I had been thinking about the potential for concussions in previous segments of play. Basically, any time that a head-to-head moment was involved or maybe an aggressive header from a really hard pass. I think it's natural to think about it. People do more than they think, whether they acknowledge it or not. Sometimes people joke about it because it's the only way to process it aloud. But yeah, I think it's only natural to worry. It's the same thing if you get tackled in your ankle and I’m thinking about if my ankle going to be sprained when I just rolled it, or is it going to well? Similarly, if you tweak your hamstring, you’re asking yourself if this the start of a hamstring tear? Or is this just a warning sign? I think professional athletes are really in tune with their body and they're always pushing the line of what's acceptable, what's not or what's damaging or not to their careers and lives. I think it's just normal to to experience a collision and then later on, reflect on what happened, what are the potential consequences of that and what are the signs? The key is to be aware of yourself as you evaluate what's going on.”
What first got you into the Q-Collar and what made you ultimately want to try it?
“When it pertains to new technology or methods to either improve my play or improve my health, I'm always all ears. I recognize that there's a lot of gimmicks out there that try to get into the hands of professional athletes. I think that is the basis for which I frame my mind as I evaluate any opportunity. My first experience with a Q-Collar from a visual standpoint was watching Meghan Klingenberg with the Thorns in 2021. I would see her go out there with one, but I had no idea what it was - Similar to how many people will look at me today. Towards the end of that year, she posted on Instagram explaining what it was. I had just gone through my first concussion at that point. It was starting to kind of sit in my head a little bit, but I started thinking about if this is something that I should try seriously? Meghan's a leader in so many different fields. She’s someone that I respect deeply. If she was wearing it, it automatically came with a level of trust. And as 2021 rolled on, I was dealing with some other issues while dealing with a hamstring injury, I was fighting for my place in the team after being out injured so often, and ultimately dealing with a trade that brought me down here to the San Jose Earthquakes. And so I was in-and-out of deciding whether something like that would be a good opportunity for me. I was also trying to be mindful that I've had one concussion and if this the time to experiment with different methods or devices that might help my future now? During that time of contemplation, I didn't quite have the tools or resources necessarily to find out if I wanted to test one out. And before I knew it, I got a second concussion. And after my second one I decided it was time.”
Do your teammates or other players around the MLS ask you about the Q-Collar? What kinds of questions are they asking about it and what is your response?
“I have a lot of teammates who asked me, a lot of acquaintances, a lot of opponents. The general questions are ‘is that comfortable?’ and ‘Do you believe in it?’ and the questions are or the answers to those are. ‘It's comfortable enough.’ I'm never going to lie to someone and tell them that it's going to make them feel better in the immediate or that It’s going to be something that enhances their general stylistic point of view. It’s as comfortable as anything else we wear to get on to the field and perform. I think it enhances my performance because I do feel more protected when I go out there. I do feel like I have the support to go into challenges and to go for headed balls in a way that I didn't have in the past, which really begs the question of what I was doing before and what we're all doing right now. With what I know, I encourage guys to at least test it out. I'm never going to force someone to do it. But when they ask for my recommendation, I say, ‘yeah, I think it's worth it. What's the harm?’ The potential good is beyond quantifiable for us as professional athletes who hopefully play 10-to-15-year careers if we're lucky.”
What do you hope to get out of using the Q-Collar?
“I hope the Q-Collar lengthens my career. I think there's a number of factors aside from my head that are indicative of how long my career goes. But you never want to be one of those guys who starts counting their concussions on two hands. You never want to be one of those guys that maybe go through episodes in between concussions as well. I think it's just important that you give yourself the best chance to to have a long career from a holistic standpoint. And again, I think I think people will do that for me.”
What would tell younger players about protecting their brains?
“I would tell any young player that it's never too early to look after themselves, to look after their bodies and to start thinking about what it looks like and what it means to look after their brain. We do so much preventative work for our hamstrings, for our calves, ankles, hips, and we take such good care of our core in hopes of what? In hopes of avoiding the hernias of the world, the hamstring tears, the soft tissue injuries. But when we talk about our brain, we kind of just wait and see what happens. Even when we talk about concussion recovery. I was grateful, especially in Portland, to be supported by a number of sports science medical staff that had had experiences with concussions. They were equipped to help me through that process. But in a lot of places, according to one of the people I talked to, you just sit in a dark room and get better on your own, That's so backwards. We would not accept that for any part of our body. That’s why the preventative measures are as important as what we do after the fact. And again, fate catches up to all of us in that an injury is bound to happen. But what can you prevent and what can you protect in the lead up to said injury? How can you return to play feeling comfortable on your own time? That you are in the right space to go back to playing at your best level? And then what? What can you do to make sure after your career that you feel like you gave it your all, but you're ready to give your all in a different space, things like the Q-Collar help me do that.”
What would you tell parents or young athletes who are considering getting the Q-Collar?
“I think wearing a Q-Collar is a no brainer for me. As I said, when I get out into the field, if I forget to wear a collar, I can sense it immediately because I just feel like something's missing. I feel naked almost. I feel somewhat exposed. I think as young player, you have the chance to build habits. You have the chance to understand what you're used to and what you're not. And as parents of these young players, you also have the chance to influence your kids’ lives. Having the Q-Collar be a part of their everyday sporting routines at a young age just builds a lifetime, or careers worth of good protective habits. That's how I would encourage kind of people who are watching this or people who are curious to think about as they navigate the youth soccer space. Because, again, when you're talking about developing brains at a younger age, you don't really want to have a Traumatic Brain Injury at that point. When we talk about the recovery process, the fact that the brain is still growing and getting used to reaching its full potential, you also recognize that not every kid's going to go on to play professionally and every kid will put their brain under a different level of excessive stress in whatever environment end up in, and you want it to be at full power as long as possible.”
Do you think there is a stigma around brain health in soccer?
“There's a stigma against taking care of things and all of a sudden you become the concussion guy, There are guys, I promise you, who have had more significantly more concussions than me in this league that either don't want to acknowledge it, or don't want to admit it to anyone else who are wondering what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and if it actually is going to work. They don't want to be labeled as the concussion guy. I understand that because then all of a sudden, those things can influence what people say about you. I've had people doubt whether I will head the ball because I wear this. I promise if I didn't wear a Q-Collar, no one would think about whether I'm going to challenge or not because of my head. They would just say ‘he didn't go in because he didn't feel he could win it. He didn't go in because he was in the position to win it.’ But the default now is to think, ‘Concussion guy. He doesn't want another concussion.”
What do you want your legacy to be in professional soccer once you are done playing?
“I’m hoping for my legacy to be trophies. And unfortunately, I missed an opportunity in Portland in 2018 to kind of fulfill that alongside the team that we had then. But now I'm in San Jose with Earthquakes. I think where we're in the process of building a team that can compete even more than we might be right now, one that I hope we hope can win an MLS Cup, the Supporter, Shield, The Open cup, whatever it might be. Every trophy is important to me and if that happens here, then I think that that would be as big a piece to my legacy as anyone else's anywhere they've been.”