I was out with my friends of the Orlando Facial Hair Club for one of our monthly meetings. You know, the meetings where nothing really gets accomplished except for drinking good beer and enjoying the epic company of friends? Yeah, it was one of those meetings and it started like any other: Get dressed, get the wife and daughter fed and ready to shut down for the night, hop in my car, and head downtown to Orlando Brewing for good beer, good people, and a great evening.
After busting chops, and getting mine busted pretty good, a few of us decided we were really hungry and wanted to go out for some food. It was late at night, on a weekend in downtown Orlando, and where on earth were we going to get good food? The answer was, for us, fairly simple — Tako Cheena.
The one thing I distinctly remember is them being out of rice, so I had to get quinoa. I mean, what the hell is quinoa anyway? It was just a bunch of hairy guys sitting around enjoying some food and banter, similar to every other patron in the place at that time of night. It seemed just like every other night, until we cleaned up our mess and walked outside.
Upon walking out the front door, the first of many police cars came screaming by. I do not think I had ever seen a police car in Orlando going that fast on surface roads downtown. We made some comment about it, probably a derogatory one involving the hot sign at Krispy Kreme or something juvenile like that, but then another one came flying by, and another. Obviously something was going on somewhere near us, and it was late, so we decided to part ways, bro hug double taps handed out to all, and we left to head home.
I had the second-longest drive that night, only beaten in distance by my good friend from the Tampa area (and don’t worry, he is Orlando City through and through). I listen to mostly satellite radio, because it is really hard to find a terrestrial station that plays Norwegian Black Metal or 8-bit Mathcore. I remember my phone notifications beginning to go non-stop as i approached my side of town and, peeking at my phone while stopped at a red light, that is when I first realized what happened.
I remember scrambling to get my radio to switch to a local station to find out exactly what was happening even though, based on the phone notifications, I secretly didn’t want to know because I knew the news was going to be horrible.
I was at the airshow disaster in Ramstein Germany in 1988. I am a military brat, and have listened to Taps more times than I want to count. Death is not something that distant from me in that I have borne witness to its cold hand possibly a few times more than those in my peer group. I can honestly say that particular night, although I was miles away, possibly hurt the most.
It all started at around 2 a.m. ET two years ago today, on June 12, 2016. It happened right down the road from the brewery at which I had enjoyed beer with friends just hours before. It happened in the downtown that we call home. It happened in the city that I have family and friends in, that we choose to raise our kids in, and that we — and this is a giant collective we — call home.
Forty-nine people were taken from the community that night, 53 more were injured, and an entire community was left wondering why. But one thing the community did not do was rest, and from tragedy we have seen beauty and a coming together of people of all kinds, especially soccer fans and the larger soccer community.
Want to understand just how deeply this hurt, and just how strongly we feel the need to remember that day? Look no further than the seats within Orlando City Stadium.
And it wasn’t just felt here in Orlando.
Above is just one example of the support shown by other MLS clubs for the entire Orlando community. I could fill this article up with images from around the league, but I think the item to focus on is what I perceive has happened since.
June is Pride month, in remembrance of the Stonewall riots in late June of 1969. June has become a month of spreading love, of teaching tolerance, of trying to understand that we are different in one way, shape, or form, and that difference is what leads to the cultural identity that makes our humanity, and our city, great. It makes our state great and it makes our country great.
The Pride movement has taken leaps and bounds in the past two years, and the pictures below say it all, from a culture that has absolutely embraced trying to spread the message of love, inclusion, and tolerance.
The soccer world has been taking a very firm stand against prejudice and hatred as of late, as some leagues around the world are rife with it. Adding to that, as it falls in line with the message of tolerance, is the current message of love and acceptance.
This community, including the soccer community, is one big family. Look to how the community reacts to any and all adversity thrown its way, from the loss of a memorable fan, to what Orlando had to suffer through two years ago today. The tension and vitriol will always be cast aside when tragedy strikes, as fans and teams alike will band together to help people and communities heal. It is something that needs to happen more in this world, and it doesn't surprise me in the least that the greater soccer family is leading by example, showing everyone who is watching that although we have our differences on match day, when needed, we are all in this life together and we will band together for the greater good.
Two years on, and we are all still pushing for the greater good. It has been two years, and we should never forget what happened that night, but we also should remember to look beyond the motives, and focus on what that night taught so many.