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From the Pitch - Playing for Pride



Players from MLS, USL, NWSL and PDL unite in support of Pride Month cause led by NCFC's da Luz

Mewis Photo Courtesy ISI Photos

June is Pride Month, providing a spotlight for a number of initiatives aimed at supporting the LGBTQ community. One such project that has made its way onto the pitch is the Playing for Pride project, conceptualized and championed by North Carolina FC midfielder Austin da Luz.

An effort first intiated in 2017, da Luz built a groundswell of support across the soccer landscape through a combination of heartfelt messaging and assistance from other participating players, helping the program exceed its fundraising goal in year one.

Now in its second year, Playing for Pride has aligned with Athlete Ally, a platform whose mission is rooted in the goal of unifying and empowering people through sport. With over 100 participating players from leagues such the MLS, USL, NWSL, PDL and others around the world, Playing for Pride has become a shining example of not only the ability that sport has to bring us together, but also the role that athletes, and social media, can play in advancing such causes in contemporary society.

To help explain the project and provide insight into what their participation means to them, da Luz and a group of participating players took the time to speak to From the Pitch about why they "Play for Pride."

The beauty of the cause lies in its universality however, and you don't need to be a professional soccer player to play your part. 


Matt Bahner

FC Cincinnati

Sammy Conti

Lansing United (PDL)

Austin da Luz

North Carolina FC

Jochen Graf

Tampa Bay Rowdies

Cody Laurendi

OKC Energy FC

Niall McCabe

Louisville City FC

Sam Mewis

North Carolina Courage (NWSL)

Ben Mines

New York Red Bulls (MLS)

Aodhan Quinn

Orange County SC

Connor Sparrow

Real Salt Lake (MLS)

How did this concept come to fruition?

The idea of Playing for Pride formed as a reaction to the conversation surrounding the HB2 bill here in my home state of North Carolina. First and foremost, I wanted to stand in support of the LGBTQ+ community, whose rights were being infringed upon.

da Luz

It was also important to me to try to highlight the power of the soccer community and our ability to affect positive change when it comes to diversity and equality.

da Luz

As far as the project becoming what it has, that's completely down to the support that it has received from fellow players and fans. They have been the driving force behind the growth and impact of Playing for Pride.

Da Luz

Have you been surprised by the variety of players who've jumped on board?

Seeing the variety of players stepping up and the distance the message has traveled is the most fun part for me. I am constantly amazed at the willingness of so many players to lend their voices to the cause. From National Team members to kids playing PDL for the summer, seeing that range of players is extremely gratifying and validating.

da Luz

How did some of you guys first find out about this project?

I found out about Playing for Pride on the bus to our first NWSL game last season. McCall [Zerboni] was passing around the introduction that Austin had written explaining his idea and plan for the program. I immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of it, and I messaged Austin on Twitter expressing my excitement right away.



I found out about this project last year while playing for FC Cincinnati from my good friend, Matt Fondy. He told me Austin was putting together this great idea and asked if I wanted to be involved. Knowing Austin, I knew it was going to be a success and knew he always had the right intentions so I joined in.

I first found out about Playing for Pride towards the beginning of last season when Aodhan joined. We were teammates in Cincinnati and when I asked him about it, he told me that one of his friends, Austin da Luz, had created it and was looking for other players to join in. I was immediately on board, and with a few family members whom are a part of the LGBTQ community it was a topic that I felt strongly about and wanted to contribute to the cause.



I started following the project during its campaign last season and thought it was quite an incredible way to connect so many people around the world. It was awesome to see a small movement grow to incorporate many players in different leagues.

I first found out about the project floating around on Twitter. Then I saw a few teammates join and I approached them on how to do the same.


That’s interesting. Do you all think something like this could be accomplished without social media in today’s world?

It would have been impossible for the project to grow in the way that it has without social media. Initially we relied almost completely on word-of-mouth via twitter to spread the message and get people involved, and in that way it's been encouraging because social media can often be seen as such a toxic thing.

da Luz


This is just another one of those things that is able to have a bigger impact and reach because of social media. That’s how a lot of people are finding out about this initiative. It provides the perfect platform and it’s the kind of thing social media should actually be used for.

I don’t think it would be as big as it is without the power of social media because if over 100 are athletes involved with it, and they are posting about it and sharing with their followers, their friends, it makes people want to get involved as well.



I think that social media certainly plays a huge role in bringing the fans into the fold. Each time I tweet about my contributions, all of my followers can see that and decide if they want to match me. I feel like it is such a powerful tool to express my own beliefs and become connected to like-minded individuals.

Social Media has changed so much. For people to get their message across, it’s such a broad range of people with this medium. You could get the message out without it, but it would be much more difficult and it’s much easier to post about something on Twitter and get 20 teams retweeting.


That’s thousands and thousands of people seeing it. It’s not just getting the message out and that’s it, ya know? You can interact with the players involved, people involved and the organization itself. I think Austin has done a really good job with that.



Social media has been the reason this project has exploded, but first and foremost the credit has to be given to Austin for his initiative and courage to create and promote this movement. But it would not have reached all of these players without the creative usage of the social media platform.

Sammy, the PDL is such a large league with so many players, why was it important you take part in this and act as a representative within the league?

Everyone has a voice that can catalyze change, and inspiring players in the PDL, many of which are college players that are aspiring, future professionals, to find confidence in their voice now when they may or may not think it will matter as much, will know how to be a better role model when they do have the professional level of influence.


That’s an awesome reason to want to get involved. What made the rest of you want to be a part of this cause?

This is the first time I will be involved with something like this. I believe that it is imperative for us as athletes with a platform to show the next generation that acceptance and love for ALL is what life is about.



I got involved after I spoke with my teammate Corey Baird about it. I wanted to help push this social issue forward, and being that I can use my games as a method of contribution, it just made sense.

It’s very easy to jump on board with something like this because people aren’t treated the same, ya know? It’s almost criminal. It builds me heavy seeing women getting not the same, disproportionate wages for women in the workplace and people are being discriminated.. it builds me heavy.


I have always been like “people are people”, for me I don’t care. If I can do something that will help support and educate and broaden people’s minds, I am more than happy to do it.



I was involved in the first version and it was a great way to use our platform to bring attention to a topic we think is important. Austin has done such a great job of organizing Playing for Pride and I am happy to be able to help in a small way.

You’re all now part of a large group of supporting this cause. Can you share what that means to you on a personal level?

Personally, it means a great deal. I have a few family members, specifically my older brother, who are a part of this community. I have personally seen all the struggles that he has had to endure throughout his life.


It is tough to see a family member, have to go through something so difficult, when you believe it is not warranted. I was never one to speak openly about this, only because I didn't feel like there was anything to talk about; I had an older brother, whom I loved very much, who was just like everyone else, and I felt that if I had to speak about it then I was just adding to the problem, because frankly it shouldn't matter.


When I first heard of Austin and why he was creating this project, it made me feel more comfortable and open and made me want to step up, speak out and help raise awareness and rally support.



I also have family ties with the LGBTQ community. My family has always tried to influence me and help support people who may not have the same equality rights that I have, so I will always try to get involved with that and act upon it.

While soccer is the vehicle, this is something that goes well beyond the pitch. Our generation needs to continue to set the standard when it comes to acceptance and inclusivity.



I have always been a believer in equal rights. I’ve found that Raleigh is an extremely accepting and open city, and I’m grateful to be able to support the LGBTQ community in any way that I can. I’ve seen friends and teammates face discrimination and I find that unacceptable. If I can provide support to a community of people who are marginalized, then I feel like it is my responsibility to do so.

Being a part of something like this is important to me for a few reasons. I want to shows people and especially kids that it’s ok to be yourself, and not fear what others may think. Don’t let anyone stop you from doing what makes you happy and the guys on the team and myself support you in doing so, 100%.



This campaign really personally means a lot to me. I have the viewpoint that everyone deserves to live their life the way they feel is authentic, and what better way to showcase that than on the football pitch!


The game is such a powerful tool for conversation and bringing attention to what we can improve in society. But at a personal level, I sometimes think that because I am not a professional athlete with thousands of followers or fans, I cannot create meaningful change, but that is simply a lie stemming from fear.


Everyone, no matter how small they think their voice is, has a platform to bring attention towards flaws in society that we can change, and that is what is so incredible about this project.

Austin, with all the support and momentum you have been able to build to this point, what does Playing for Pride look like five years from now?

Five years on I would love for the project to be seen as more of a celebration of progress than a call to action. That may be naive, but I think that the more we can get people, and specifically players, to speak out in support of the LGBTQ+ community the more likely it is we'll create environments where people feel comfortable and safe stepping forward, being themselves, and telling their own story. That, to me, is the ultimate goal.

da Luz

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