Striking Out

Photo courtesy of Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United Is an Exclusive Club Whose Membership is Everyone

There’s Atlanta and Loudoun and Philadelphia, kind of, and New Mexico and Washington, DC…oh, and Manchester, of course—each of these places is home to an association football team with “United” in its name.  In a sport that’s most famous, at least here in America, for its hooliganism, what makes an association football club united?  What unites our local franchise, Minnesota United Football Club?

The “Football” that’s uniting is European football, of course; that exotic expression of athleticism which thinks it’s somehow entitled to naming itself after podiatristic body parts simply because (most of) its players aren’t allowed to use their hands and arms–“soccer,” as we say on this side of the pond.  It’s a sport that’s never quite scored here in the colonies, not in a big way, a reality which only serves to make its Minnesotan devotees all the more devoted.

That devotion, as it turns out, works both ways.  Minnesota United Football Club, also (and affectionately) known as the Loons, has, from its inception, valued community involvement.  Their official website proclaims “While the team has always been guided in this work by its core values—resilience, inclusivity, dedication, excellence, winning, teamwork, and respect—MNUFC has also defined its community mission through a set of pillars built upon those values.”

And its community mission includes the queer community.  Therefore, the Loons will celebrate Pride Night on Wednesday June 23, 2021, at 7 pm.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota United FC

But the full celebration will begin before then.

“We are hosting a podcast with Collin Martin, as well as Tony Bono,” announces Eric Durkee, Director of Public Relations for Minnesota United.  Tony Bono is a former member of the former team, the Minnesota Strikers, who came out as gay eighteen years ago.  Collin Martin made headlines when he came out in 2018, making himself the first professional gay athlete to do so while active.

Your ears having been properly stimulated, the Loons shall go for your eyes on game night.  “We will be using rainbow lighting on the exterior of the stadium,” Durkee promises.  Within Allianz Field, but still before the opening coin flip, Minnesota United will grant its L’Étoile du Nord–“The North Star,” in one of them fancier Euro-speaks.  This award recognizes people making a positive impact in the community and who embody the core values of the club.  The recipients for Pride Night 2021 will be Michael and Jack McConnell, who took “united” to a whole new level when they made themselves the first (and therefore longest) American same-sex couple to get married a mere forty-five years ago.

After that, the captain will lead the Pride-game-jerseyed team to field whilst wearing an armband graced by all the colors of the rainbow.  And that’s not all, according to Durkee, who says “additional in-game elements [include] a pride scarf and T-shirt, as well as warm-up shirts for the players–our broadcast team will be wearing them on air.”

The Loons’ opponents that night, it’s worth noting, will be FC Austin, who, if they win, will be duly punished when team members return to their hotel rooms to find all of the furniture ruthlessly re-arranged, courtesy of the local chapter of the Gay Mafia.

A cynic might suppose that Pride Night is little more than a gaudy corporate ploy to grab low-hanging green and to nibble low-rent p.r., but MNUFC’s refutation is etched in history:  shortly after Minnesota United came into existence in 2014 (as part of a different league), the Loons made themselves the first professional sports team to sign the Athlete Ally pledge.  Athlete Ally is an advocacy group focused on making sporty communities more inclusive and less discriminatory; its pledge is to, well, be more inclusive and less discriminatory.  And the Loon’s gay-friendly history is still being written.  Notes Durkee, “we continue to have our new and current players sign the Athlete Ally Pledge.”

Pride Night 2021 will, in fact, extend beyond the sunrise following the game.  “We will also be actively participating in Twin Cities Pride,” Durkee predicts.  “The full details are still to be ironed out, but we have participated in this incredible event for multiple years.”

If the team’s record is anything to go by, Minnesota United’s support for the LGBTQ+ community is not about the podcasts and the lights, or the awards and jerseys and the armbands and scarves that tie the Loons to the community—it’s more basic than that.  What unites Minnesota United…

…is love.

Minnesota United Football Club Pride Night
Wednesday June 23, 2021, at 7 pm
Allianz Field