Phil Rawlins took the podium at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s (NSCAA’s) annual awards banquet Friday night to accept an award in honor of Orlando City’s response to a solemn occasion in the city’s history.
The Orlando City “life-president” was awarded the distinct honor of receiving the Presidential Recognition Award, in appreciation of the club’s response to the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting back in June.
“The events of June 12th were horrific for the city of Orlando, for anyone involved at all with that event,” Rawlins recounted on stage Friday. “We went back into work Monday morning, knowing that we had a game to play on Saturday and knowing that we had an opportunity, a chance, to raise the city up, to lift the city and to heal the city.”
June 18 marked the club’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes, which the team drew 2-2. However, the result was secondary to what the club had planned as tribute for the 49 lives lost just a few days prior to the match.
“The sport that we’re involved in is a special sport in the world,” Rawlins said. “It is soccer. It’s the world’s game. It is the greatest game. It has an ability to do things that no other sport has, and we had to take that responsibility on our shoulders on that Monday morning, and carry it through the week. We did not know where we would be as a city five years later. We knew the one thing that we could do, was heal that city and help bring it together. That’s what we did that day.”
The moment of silence in the 49th minute of the match, the supporter-planned colorizing of the stadium, the #OrlandoUnited t-shirts and the 49 empty seats designated with rainbow balloons, were all together part of a bigger cause. It was bigger than just the soccer game that day.
“It was very special, it was a special event,” said Rawlins. “It was a very special moment in time to have all those people in the stadium and on the field, putting back together a city. A city of inclusion, a city of support, and a city of love, and I’m very, very proud to come from the city of Orlando.”
The new Orlando City stadium, which is set to open for the Lions’ first game on March 5 against New York City FC, has 49 permanent rainbow-colored seats in section 12, to forever commemorate the tragic event that befell the City Beautiful. Rawlins, regardless of his role and title with the club, will be present when the new venue opens in March, displaying to the public Orlando City’s commitment to the 49 people who lost their lives that night last June.