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  • Writer's pictureDan Berridge

A community united: How players of Orlando City and the Pride continue to fly the flag for equality

You don't need me to fill you in on all the events of the last few weeks. At the risk of sounding just a touch morbid, it feels like 2020 has just lurched from one disaster to another. These have been trying times for us all. The on-going Coronavirus pandemic, in its own cruel way, began to highlight the pre-existing inequalities within our society. And I'm not just talking about the United States or the United Kingdom. I'm talking globally. It sickens me to the stomach, that racial inequality still exists. It simply has no place in our society. I recognise my white privilege, and also accept that I need to do more on a personal level to combat this disease. This disease that has been far deadlier than any global epidemic for well over 400 years now. And it is a disease. I am aware that some may say labelling racism as a disease removes a certain amount of accountability. I disagree.

As we have seen with Covid-19, the vast majority of us have been united in our desire to quash and suppress the illness. We've isolated ourselves from our loved ones, we've supported efforts to find a vaccine. We've gone to great lengths to ensure that the virus doesn't continue to take people from this world well before their time. The same approach has to be taken with regards to racism and discrimination. Much like Coronavirus, racism spreads from person to person, until it envelopes and engulfs our communities. It kills, and has continued to do so, en masse, for hundreds of years. And it has to stop. Not just for George Floyd. Not just for Trayvon Martin. Not just for Breonna Taylor. For everyone.

Whilst I'm sure we all recognise we need to do more on a personal level, there are those within our communities who simply possess a more elevated status. Whose words carry more influence and weight. Those who can use their status to effect very real change. This is something various members of the Orlando City and Orlando Pride dressing rooms have never shied away from. Be it the Black Lives Matter movement, or be it LGBTQ rights, the likes of Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Kamal Miller have been speaking out for what is right. There are no ulterior motives, just footballers using their status to positive effect.

Ali Krieger was recently pictured at a local Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Orlando along with several of her teammates, such as Erin Greening and Sydney LeRoux. Not only are such occurrences representative of a positive moral compass existing within the Pride squad. We knew that already, but they are indicative of a sense of solidarity within the team. These players are willing to go to war alongside one another both on and off the field.

It's no secret that women's soccer continues to fight its own battle against discrimination. Something that the USWNT's equal pay battle with US Soccer serves to highlight. These athletes aren't taking any crap at the best of times. It would be quite easy for them to just laser their focus in on equal pay matters, or simply to concentrate on their football. It's an allegation that has been levelled at many sports stars during this and similar crises. Not this group though. The fact that they continue to be so vocal and visible in this fight sends a powerful message. Not just to world leaders, and not just to those fighting against police reform. But to the rest of us. Change starts with us. We can and will do more. This attitude, in my opinion, embodies the spirit of Orlando City SC and the City Beautiful as a whole. It's one of the many reasons that I, as a native of the UK, fell in love with the city and the club.

This spirit is not something limited to just the Pride's dressing room either. Several members of the City squad, including Kamal Miller and Junior Urso have used their platforms to speak out. Kamal Miller was in attendance at the Orlando protests. Miller is a young player, in only his second season in Major League Soccer. His is a great example to other young players, not just in Orlando but the world over.

In soccer circles, the message has often been 'Say No To Racism'. That simply isn't enough. In terms of the sport's governing bodies, I don't think any of us are naive enough to believe that reform will start with organisations such as FIFA or US Soccer. Neither are shining beacons for equality. FIFA recently handed out a £8,000 fine to a Northern Irish club for failing to register a player correctly. They handed out £8,000 fines to the Russian and Polish football associations for racist banners and chanting by their fans in recent internationals. Change isn't going to come from them. It's going to come from fans and players a like. The more soccer stars that speak out, the more powerful the message becomes. The anti-racism message is the vaccine. Education and empowerment are the most crucial ingredients.

Social media has, generally speaking, become a double edged sword in our society. On the one hand, it can be the poisoned chalice. It has often become a festering pit of erroneous and downright terrifying views. But like anything, it's only as dangerous as those using it. With the right message it can be a breeding zone of empowerment and positivity. In terms of soccer, it has made the sport feel closer to its routes. Players aren't as inaccessible as they used to be. There is a greater sense of brotherhood and kinship, a stronger affinity between the fans and the players. As such, it turbo boosts the message being emitted by the likes of Ali Krieger and Kamal Miller. Orlando City midfielder Junior Urso, recently tweeted in support of Black Lives Matter.

It's certainly fair to say that our players aren't shy to speak out for what is right. And this is something admirable, and whilst not totally unique to Orlando, it's really not as common place as it perhaps should be. In England, their is often a hesitancy to get involved in moral or political matters. Raheem Sterling is a great example of someone who has bucked that trend. This isn't about saying footballers need to do more. It does, but so do we all. Players like Ashlyn Harris, who has been such a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights as well, continue to embed this special culture of speaking up for what is right. And that is such a beautiful and profound thing. It is something that should be actively celebrated and promoted. If we all continue to follow the lead of our heroes in purple, then the development of a vaccine for this hideous disease might be closer than we thought. Black Lives Matter.


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