GIV­ING HATE THE BOOT

OC sup­ports team ac­tivism, vows to do more

Orlando Sentinel - - Sports Weekend - By Iliana Limón Romero

Or­lando City CEO Alex Leitão dis­missed the con­cerns im­me­di­ately.

The club staff was proud to see Or­lando City and Or­lando Pride play­ers march­ing along­side 10,000 peo­ple in down­town Or­lando last week, protest­ing against so­cial in­jus­tice and po­lice bru­tal­ity fol­low­ing the death of

Ge­orge Floyd.

But, they also know the NWSL Chal­lenge Cup and MLS is Back tour­na­ments are com­ing up soon and the play­ers were ex­pos­ing them­selves to the coro­n­avirus.

“The first ques­tion ev­ery­body came to me [with] was, ‘Hey, what do you think of this? So­cial dis­tance? The

“We have the power, and the re­spon­si­bil­ity, to have a cul­ture and community where hate and dis­crim­i­na­tion have no place. … We have work to do but we are pre­pared to face that work. Let’s lead our city. Let’s make the world proud of Or­lando.”

— Cae­sar Lopez, Or­lando City chief ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cer

tour­na­ment is com­ing,’” Leitão re­called. “Of course your first re­ac­tion is kind of, ‘Oh my God, I fear about this.’ But at the end of the day, I’m very, very proud of all them that went there be­cause I un­der­stand that it’s an im­por­tant mo­ment and their voices are im­por­tant voices and they should do what they be­lieve is the best at the mo­ment to make sure ev­ery­body lis­tens.

“We have to lis­ten and lis­ten more and try to be bet­ter peo­ple, a bet­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion and a bet­ter coun­try.”

Or­lando City SC, the club that in­cludes the Lions and Pride, have a strong his­tory of so­cial ac­tivism, but they have pledged to do more.

Fri­day of­fered re­minders of how much the club has done al­ready.

The Lions and Pride played matches to honor the 49 peo­ple who died at Pulse night­club four years ago, of­fer­ing the community a place to gather and a chance to heal. Rain­bow flags and Or­lando United ban­ners filled the stands dur­ing the teams’ first home matches fol­low­ing the shoot­ing and have been fix­tures at games ever since. The club later in­stalled 49 rain­bow seats in Ex­plo­ria Sta­dium to honor the vic­tims killed dur­ing Latin night at the gay club.

The Pride have numer­ous out LGBTQ ath­letes who have grown more con­fi­dent the past few years shar­ing their sto­ries. Coach Marc Skin­ner and the play­ers wore masks dur­ing a visit of the night­club me­mo­rial on Thurs­day, the day be­fore the an­niver­sary.

Or­lando City and Or­lando Pride, along with se­lect play­ers, shared images on their so­cial me­dia ac­counts hon­or­ing the vic­tims dur­ing the an­niver­sary on Fri­day.

On the same day play­ers vis­ited the Pulse site, the club un­veiled new Black Lives Mat­ter patches on their CITYiD uni­forms. Pro­ceeds from sales of jer­seys fea­tur­ing the patches will go to the NAACP Le­gal De­fense Fund and Dream

De­fend­ers, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports free­ing peo­ple from in­car­cer­a­tion.

It’s part of Or­lando City SC’s plan to fight racial in­jus­tice.

Leitão was ready to join fel­low CEOs of sports teams around the county re­leas­ing state­ments con­demn­ing the death of Floyd, an un­armed black man who was killed when a white Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine min­utes while Floyd com­plained he could not breathe.

Video of his death sparked protests against po­lice bru­tal­ity and racial in­jus­tice in all 50 states and around the world.

Play­ers Syd­ney Ler­oux, Dom Dwyer, Alex Mor­gan, Ali Krieger, Ka­mal Miller and many oth­ers shared per­sonal mes­sages on so­cial me­dia in sup­port of Black Lives Mat­ter. Mor­gan, Krieger and Ash­lyn Har­ris also were part of a na­tional move­ment ear­lier this week let­ting black women take over their so­cial me­dia ac­counts, am­pli­fy­ing their voices.

Leitão said he thought the club gen­er­ally did a good job on so­cial is­sues and was ready to join the play­ers post­ing a mes­sage on­line, but he hes­i­tated and thought he should ask Or­lando City chief ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cer Cae­sar Lopez, “Are we do­ing enough?”

Lopez, who is black, re­sponded he thought the club could be do­ing a lot more. The en­su­ing con­ver­sa­tion in­spired Leitão to ask Lopez to write a let­ter to the staff and play­ers, which evolved into an es­say posted on Or­lando City’s web­site.

Lopez out­lined a se­ries of steps the club plans to take in the fu­ture to ad­dress racism and in­jus­tice in the Or­lando community. The club plans to sched­ule con­ver­sa­tions with ac­tivists, community mem­bers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to cre­ate a struc­ture in which Or­lando City and the Pride can ac­tively ad­dress these is­sues in the lo­cal community.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion also plans to cre­ate sys­tems to pri­or­i­tize the voices of black and mi­nor­ity staff mem­bers and play­ers.

Lopez also re­flected on the im­pact the club has aimed to have on the Par­ramore neigh­bor­hood where Ex­plo­ria Sta­dium is lo­cated. This community has been a fo­cus of out­reach for Or­lando City and the Pride for years, but Lopez said there is more the or­ga­ni­za­tion can do.

Through­out the let­ter, he em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of work­ing “in­ten­tion­ally and proac­tively” to ad­dress racism and in­jus­tice.

“We need to help our black and mi­nor­ity community to cre­ate a con­struc­tive di­a­logue and make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence,” Lopez wrote. “We have the power, and the re­spon­si­bil­ity, to have a cul­ture and community where hate and dis­crim­i­na­tion have no place. … We have work to do but we are pre­pared to face that work. Let’s lead our city. Let’s make the world proud of Or­lando.”

Leitão said the en­tire club stands be­hind the pledges Lopez made in his es­say.

MARK THOR/OR­LANDO PRIDE

Pride coach Marc Skin­ner, left, and goal­keeper Ash­lyn Har­ris, right, visit the Pulse night­club me­mo­rial on Thurs­day. The team fol­lowed the visit with so­cial me­dia posts hon­or­ing the 49 peo­ple killed four years ago.

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