Photo credit: Rob Kinnan/North Carolina FC
Austin da Luz is lacing up his cleats and stepping onto the field just as he would any other season during his eight-year career. This season, though, da Luz is playing for a cause.
The veteran midfielder, who has spent the better part of his playing career in North Carolina, recently launched the Playing for Pride campaign, which will help raise awareness for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. All donations given to his cause will go straight to the Human Rights Campaign.
“It’s been a difficult year in North Carolina, with all the controversy surrounding HB-2 and, couple that with the volatile political atmosphere, I got caught up in all that negativity,” da Luz told NASL.com. “I wanted to do something positive. I wanted to do two things. I wanted to show my support for the LGBTQ community here in North Carolina and, as a state, we aren’t what we have been portrayed to be in the media.
“The good outweighs the bad here and I wanted to further that message as a proud Carolinian.”
The idea to start the campaign was kicked around in preseason, but it was during North Carolina FC’s bye week that the ball got rolling. Since then, over 20 players in every professional league in the U.S., as well as da Luz’s former teammate, Jamie Dell, who plays in the Swedish second division, have joined in.
“The reaction from players has been pretty awesome,” da Luz said. “What’s cooler is that I haven’t gone to anyone personally and asked them to participate. I just kind of put it out there and said I’d like to get more players involved.
“I expect it to get even bigger.”
The reaction from the community and the fans has been equally welcoming. After games, when da Luz greets the fans, they’ll “shout out that they are joining me with Playing for Pride.” That interaction has only helped da Luz form a stronger bond with the supporters of North Carolina FC.
“It’s been almost uniformly positive,” he said. “People are psyched about it, they want to get involved. People like having this interaction with the players and feeling like their values line up with players they are seeing on the weekends.”
The players that have joined the Playing for Pride team will donate $2 for games played, $3 for a start, $4 for an assist, and $5 for a goal. Fans are encouraged to match a player, but have the option to just donate what they want, when they want.
“I just kind of asked fans in joining me to match those donations,” da Luz said. “People are free to come up with their own thing and donate on their own schedule, that’s totally fine too. I just wanted to get as many people involved and everyone united around this cause.”