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Charlotte FC Players Discuss Pride Night Following Seattle Draw

A Charlotte FC flag with rainbow colors running through the center sticks out of a crowd of supporters at Bank of America Stadium at Pride Night
Fans show support at Charlotte FC’s Pride Night on June 10. (Photo by Jesse Boykin Kimmel)

Charlotte FC’s June 10 Pride Night was personal for midfielder Ashley Westwood.

“For me it’s massively [important],” said Westwood as he told Queen City Nerve the story of his niece, who had recently come out. “It was a big thing to her.”

As captain, the English Westwood wore a custom rainbow-themed armband for the LGBTQ Pride-themed match against the Seattle Sounders.

“For me to wear that, I wear it with great pride, and for all the people out there as well.

Nerve spoke with Westwood after he scored his first MLS goal in Charlotte’s 3-3 draw against Seattle Sounders FC. He was assisted on the play by midfielder Ben Bender, who stirred up a minor controversy when, for the second straight year, he was the only player on the roster who opted out of wearing a Pride-themed top during warm-ups. 

The match was one of Charlotte’s most exciting contests yet — as much as one can hope for from a draw.

Seattle (8-6-4, 28 points) is in second place in MLS’s Western Conference, and until last year had a 13-year streak of making the MLS Playoffs, the longest in league history. Despite the quality of the opposition, Charlotte FC (6-8-4, 22 points), the tenth-place Charlotte FC responded to every attack, scoring three equalizers in a match for the first time in club history. 

In addition to Westwood, Patrick Agyemang and Jaylin Lindsey scored their first goals for Charlotte against Seattle, assisted by Nathan Byrne and Karol Świderski, respectively.

“It’s about time I scored my first [goal], especially for this club in my hometown,” said Lindsey at a post-match media availability. “This means everything to me for sure.”

Lindsey also noted the importance of Pride in his postgame comments.

“I think [Pride] means a lot. I think it just shows that we’re all one unit,” said Lindsey. “We can all play the game. That’s the biggest thing.”

As in its inaugural year, Charlotte donned its Pride-themed top for pre-match warmups, with this year’s theme being “Love Unites.” According to the league, “MLS athletes will wear the bold, bright kits before Pride Games which take place from May through August as the league continues to work towards a more inclusive reality for all,” though players are allowed to opt-out of wearing the kits for personal reasons.

Ben Bender dribbles the soccer ball on Bank of America's awful turf pitch
Ben Bender on the pitch. (Photo by Jesse Boykin Kimmel)

Bender’s decision to opt out led to a negative reaction from many LGBTQ supporters and allies on social media. Some pointed to York United FC as a model for how to show true allyship with the LGBTQ community. The Toronto-based team released a statement in the lead-up to its own Pride Night saying in part, “We acknowledge the right for any player to express their individual beliefs by choosing not to wear the [Pride Night] jersey. They will not be included in tonight’s roster.”

Bender is one of the team’s more popular players and leads the club in jersey sales, with the 11th most player jersey sales in all of MLS. Nerve confirmed it was Bender’s personal choice not to wear the jersey but was unable to reach him for comment due to his wedding the day after the match. Charlotte FC also declined comment. 

On their Soccer for All website promoting Pride night, the club states, “Charlotte FC and Ally are proud to support the LGBTQ+ community on and off the field all year long. We believe in being true allies to the LGBTQ+ community, using our resources to support and elevate your voices so they’re seen, heard, and celebrated.” Charlotte also hosts Hispanic Heritage and Black Excellence nights.

Additionally, Charlotte FC’s Pride top was part of a round up program at the team store that benefits Charlotte Pride. The club also gave away a commemorative Pride patch designed by local artist Pee Sheff and took time to amplify Time Out Youth as part of their efforts. 

Charlotte’s supporters groups have also been near-uniformly positive. Mint City Collective released a statement reading, in part, “Whether it be your first soccer game or 50th, know that Mint City welcomes the LGBTQ+ community, and we will continue to protect and support you.” The organization is also raising money for Time Out Youth.

In our experience reporting on the club, most players have been enthusiastic supporters of efforts to bring diversity and inclusion to Major League Soccer. When we ask Charlotte FC head coach Christian Lattanzio about the theme nights, he tends to think we should have progressed past racism and homophobia at this point.

Last year, the late Anton Walkes had one of the most eloquent messages for LGBTQ supporters:

“We’re with you,” said Walkes after Charlotte’s inaugural Pride Night match. “We just need to keep supporting each other and be proud.”

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