Sports are more than just a form of entertainment for the fans that follow them. They provide a chance to escape from the realities of the world and immerse oneself in a game, where one can become part of a team, part of a city, and part of cause.
On Saturday, Orlando City fans will make their way into Camping World Stadium clad in purple to watch their hometown Lions return to MLS play and take on the San Jose Earthquakes. But this isn’t an ordinary match for these fans, as their usually eager hearts will be made heavy by tragedy that struck too close to home,
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12th, a gunman took the lives of 49 innocent people at Pulse Nightclub in downtown Orlando and injured many others. The gay club – a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community – was ravaged by the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The city’s response has been resounding, and the fans of the club have come together in the wake of such destruction. Coach Adrian Heath says the team will look to them on Saturday, as they have since the beginning.
“Our supporters and the people of our city are part of the DNA of our football club; they’re woven into the fabric of everything we’ve done.”
He says the team has now shifted its sights to the San Jose match after it’s U.S. Open Cup victory Wednesday night, adding, “It’s been a really emotion-charged few days for everybody. [Saturday is] going to be another emotion-charged evening.”
Saturday’s match will be dedicated to the victims of the attack and their families. Orlando City players will wear pride-themed #OrlandoUnited shirts during warm-ups. Players from both teams will line up together during the pre-match ceremony, where first responders and support services will be honored. In the 49th minute, the ball will be intentionally taken out of play and players and fans will stop for a moment of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives.
For a city still reeling and recovering, a sporting event gives fans a chance to stand up in the face of unspeakable horror and cheer for something bigger than the crest on their jerseys or the city from which they hail. Orlando and San Jose fans alike will cheer for the belief that love will always win over hate; that we are better united than we are torn apart.
Midfielder David Mateos, far from being an Orlandoan, made it all too clear what and who his team would be playing for on Saturday.
“We play for the city… and the families who lost their people.”
Whatever the result, the city will have made a statement: we are united, and we will overcome.