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RSL coach Mike Petke pays tribute to victims of Orlando nightclub shooting

Jun 14, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Rainbow colored seats sit empty before a soccer match between the Orlando City SC and Miami FC in remembrance of the Pulse Nightclub victims. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the most recognizable areas of Orlando City Stadium is Section 12, where 49 rainbow seats are located to honor each of the lives lost during the Orlando nightclub shooting at Pulse on June 12, 2016.

When Real Salt Lake traveled to face Orlando City SC during the weekend, it was the team’s first time visiting the newly-built stadium — it opened in late February 2017, and last season the teams faced off in Utah at Rio Tinto Stadium — and so it marked the first time RSL players and coaches saw the tribute in person. Head coach Mike Petke even forgot that the seats were there, but as his team was preparing for competition and he looked up at the stands, he was immediately reminded of the events that took place almost two years ago. 

“My wife and I watched it unfold on CNN and … tears come to your eyes,” Petke said in a statement. “I am very much of the belief in equality — in all walks of life. Whether it’s race. Whether it’s sexual orientation. I just live my life in a way that if someone is happy, let them be happy. And that’s why I get rattled when I hear people say things about same-sex marriage, for example. Why do you want to take away somebody’s right to be happy? It was on my mind the entire practice. Then at the end of practice, I decided to take a picture with that. To me, it’s a very important tribute and a reminder for things like that.”

And Petke posted that photo of himself sitting in the middle of the rainbow seats on Twitter a day before the match.

Petke captioned the photo “Respect. Equality. End the Violence.” He ended the post with #OrlandoUnited, which is also placed on each of the 49 seats with a rainbow heart.

He received a warm response of replies from a wide range of Twitter users who supported his gesture.

Orlando City received recognition for its various tributes and work in the community following the Pulse tragedy. When the seats were installed in January, 2017, Orlando City co-founder Phil Rawlins said they will serve as a “as a constant reminder of the senseless acts of June 12.”

While RSL ended up losing to Orlando City SC 3-1 Sunday, it’s clear some things are bigger than sports.

“I wanted to put it out there — respect, equality, end the violence. And what I mean by that was along the lines of what happened at the Pulse Nightclub,” Petke said in a statement. “I was the founder of an anti-violence foundation when I played — Petke’s Kick the Violence Foundation. The moment took over, to be honest with you. It was a very somber and impactful moment. To be around something like that, it brought emotions back. It’s a wonderful tribute by Orlando City.”

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