The Orlando Pride finally return to action Saturday against winless Sky Blue FC, but there’s more to Saturday’s home match than just what’s happening on the pitch.
The match — the club’s first since June 3 — is the Pride’s first “Pride in Our City” match to honor the 49 victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting. A portion of the sales from tickets and merchandise will go toward supporting nonprofits like the One Orlando Alliance, The Dru Project, onePULSE Foundation, Zebra Coalition and Contigo Fund.
Pride players will wear jerseys with rainbow numbers, which will be auctioned off after the match and proceeds will go to the Orlando City Foundation “for use in LGBTQ+-related initiatives.”
There’s been a lot of build-up to the match. Players have taken to social media to post pictures and videos taken near the 49 rainbow seats at Orlando City Stadium. Defensive midfielder Toni Pressley even painted a picture – a red heart on a rainbow background – that going to be sold as the gameday poster.
“I was here when it happened,” said Pressley, a Pride player since 2016. “I just feel such a strong connection to the community, not being too far away and having played here for almost three years now. The involvement we have with our fans and our community, I think, is so strong and it’s something that I’m proud to be a part of.
“Anything we can do to help members of our community feel supported, feel loved, I’m willing to do.”
The Pride (4-3-4, 16 points) play Sky Blue FC (0-8-2, 2 points) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium.
Christine Nairn, who came out as gay in a December 2017 blog post, said nights supporting LGBTQ initiatives and rights serve a critical purpose.
“It just makes people feel good in their own skin,” Nairn said.
“In this league, I think it’s very important for everyone to feel inclusive. I think that the teams that I have experienced have been really good at that. I doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, gay, straight, whatever – you’re going to feel like you’re part of the team, no matter what.
“I think it’s important to raise these issues because everyone deserves to feel happy and feel safe in their environment. I think that events like this just make that avenue even more important and under the microscope and make it a bigger deal because it is important.”
Nairn was with the Washington Spirit when the Pulse tragedy happened, but she said the eye-opening impact was felt nationwide.
“I think it kind of raised everyone’s eyebrows and [we] said, ‘What are we really doing?’” Nairn said. “What are the problems going on in our society and in our country? We’re really talking about X, Y and Z when people are losing their lives while they’re trying to go have fun.
“People shouldn’t be losing their lives based on their sexual orientation.”
Pressley said athletes have a platform to positively reach people and she’s excited to be a part of an inclusive club.
“I think it’s just awesome how we have a memorial of our own in our stadium with the 49 seats and we’re doing another pride game honor these victims,” Pressley said. “I just hope that we put on a good performance for them and know we’re playing for something bigger than ourselves.”