SBJ/June 19-25, 2017/Opinion

A year of healing: The role sports played after the Pulse shooting

It is hard to believe that it has been just over one year. The world lost one of its greatest heroes when Muhammad Ali died. My wife Ann and our daughter Emily and I attended the funeral services in Louisville, Ky., and saw the tens of thousands of people pour their hearts out for this once-in-a-lifetime human being. It was sad but also a celebration and an inspiration.

Less than 48 hours later, 49 people who were just as important to their families and friends as Ali was to the world had their lives ended by hate during the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

I live in Orlando, and watching the response of the community as it came together to help the survivors, comfort the families and begin the healing process in the community was nothing short of inspirational. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, the first responders from the police and fire departments, and the medical teams courageously helped save as many lives as possible. And they all stood all as the refrain became “Orlando Strong,” and “We are Orlando” was heard across the globe.

Within days the world of sport, as it often does, began to play its part in the healing process. Track Shack, a major leader in running events in Orlando, has a monthly race for anyone who wants to have a friendly run. Normally 75 runners turn up. Jon and Betsy Hughes, the co-owners of Track Shack, put the word out that the Wednesday night after the shooting was going to be in memory of the 49 victims and the survivors. More than 1,000 people turned out to run.

Orlando City SC joined other pro sports organizations in Florida as part of the healing process last year after the nightclub shootings.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


That Friday night the Tampa Bay Rays had their regularly scheduled Pride Game. Billy Bean, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player, was scheduled to speak. The Rays typically draw 8,000 fans per game and are one of the worst attended teams in professional sports. They sold all 43,000 tickets and thought they could have sold 100,000 if they had the capacity. People wanted to be together, to be part of the healing in the Rays’ moving pregame ceremony, which was a 30-minute tribute to those who lost their lives, the survivors and those courageous people who supported them. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to the crowd on the stadium screen.

The next night, Orlando City SC had its regularly scheduled Saturday game. More than 37,000 people attended. Fans in each section of the stadium organized on Facebook so that everyone in each section wore a different color. The entire stadium looked like a rainbow flag. Orlando City also put on a memorable and moving pregame ceremony. MLS Commissioner Don Garber was in the house.

The Orlando Magic stepped up the day after the shooting with a donation of $400,000. Team CEO Alex Martins headed up the One Orlando Fund, which eventually raised $30 million for the victims’ families and the survivors. Before the Magic tipped off their season in October, there was a powerful commemoration of the Pulse shooting.

I am proud to say that our students in the UCF DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program organized a 4.9K CommUNITY Rainbow Run on the Saturday before the first anniversary. On June 12, the day of the anniversary, there were commemorative events all across Central Florida. The 49 people who lost their lives that day have not only not been forgotten but are thought of as having helped make Orlando a unified, incredibly diverse community.

I have been lucky enough to become friends with Barbara Poma, the courageous owner of Pulse, and sit on the board of the onePULSE Foundation with humility.

I am proud that the world of sport could play its part in helping to bring Central Florida together after such a tragedy. When it seemed like war was being waged, Orlando created the tools to make peace. When someone tried to use hate against us, we embraced each other with love instead.

I speak often around the country and sometimes around the world. Now when people find out I am from Orlando, most never fail to mention how magnificent Orlando’s response was to that night of enormous tragedy. I am proud of my community and its leaders and of the world of sport that helped the healing.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@ucf.edu) is the chair of the DeVos Sports Business Management Graduate Program and is the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which annually publishes racial and gender report cards on MLB, the NBA and WNBA, NFL, MLS, college sports, and the APSE. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick.

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