When the Chicago Fire hosts Pride Night on Aug. 4 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, what may be most exceptional is that the event is not particularly exceptional at all.
The city’s Major League Soccer franchise already has demonstrated its support of the LGBT community by marching with Equality Illinois’ float at the Pride Parade in June.
But more importantly, from the point of view of Fire director of communications Brendan Hannan, is how Pride Night fits into the Fire’s overall philosophy. It’s not just the LGBT community the Fire is welcoming with open arms — the club’s mission is to reach out to the entire soccer fan base in the Chicago area, which Hannan estimates to be around 1.2 million people.
“There are soccer fans of all different types,” he said. “Whether that’s … different ethnicities or the LGBT community, this is an opportunity to provide a soccer experience for those folks.”
The Fire, with 13 nationalities represented on its roster, does offer role models for many of its ethnic fan bases.
But there are no active openly-gay players in MLS, though veteran David Testo, who played in the league for Columbus from 2004-06, came out last November. Testo has not officially retired, although he has not played since being released by a current MLS member, the Montreal Impact, about a month before he came out during the last offseason.
But with its melting-pot mentality, perhaps pro soccer could one day become the first major North American pro sports league with an out player.
Pride Night, and the Fire’s ongoing association with Equality Illinois, could mark a couple more steps in that direction. “Sports are inclusive in nature,” Hannan said.
And that welcoming approach extends to the LGBT community, which may not have been the case 20 or 30 years ago.
“Yeah, I think that sports teams understand the shift in terms of how things are perceived,” Hannan said.
Now, support of LGBT causes is something image-conscious pro sports franchises are perfectly comfortable with. Fire players and front-office reps have not only taken part in the Pride Parade, but have made appearances at Sidetrack to promote Pride Night.
And a portion of ticket sales for the game — which matches the Fire and Toronto FC at 7:30 p.m. — will go to Equality Illinois to benefit the organization’s marriage equality efforts.
That commitment looks to make Pride Night a win-win situation — regardless of what happens on the field.