Orlando comes together, prepares to move forward

Jun 12, 2016; Orlando, Fl, USA; Crowds begin to re-gather near the scene of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub. Mandatory Credit: Chris Bonanno/Florida Today via USA TODAY Network
Jun 12, 2016; Orlando, Fl, USA; Crowds begin to re-gather near the scene of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub. Mandatory Credit: Chris Bonanno/Florida Today via USA TODAY Network /

Orlando was still mourning as citizens gathered downtown for a candlelight vigil Monday. One thing was clear. The city had come together against division.

We have seen Orlando come together before.

Usually it would be in jubilation. Sports tends to have that power to bind a community and bring them together under a single flag. People off all kinds of backgrounds coming to that communal space to cheer for players with their city’s name across their chests on jerseys and t-shirts and the like.

Related Story: Orlando mourning following mass shooting

The exuberance that comes from those moments when a city is in the spotlight and everyone can claim some ownership of greatness lifts everyone up. It creates a connection between total strangers. Everyone cheers for their team.

In this moment of extreme sadness, those shirts were worn again. Whatever they had. Often the only piece of clothing anyone has that shows civic pride is their jersey and t-shirt. That Orlando Magic hat. The Orlando City scarf.

Sports was not the focus Monday at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts as the plaza was filled with mourners, residents and citizens of a hurting city. It had its echoes as something to represent the city. A symbol of pride and strength that terror and hate was not going to divide.

As in those triumphant moments on the field or court, tragedy has woven Orlando closer than ever before.

People from all over the city and of all walks of life joined together Monday for the One Orlando Vigil. Speakers from throughout the LGBTQ community, whose most sacred safe space was violated by hatred Saturday night at Pulse Night Club when a gunman opened fire, killing 49 and wounding more than 50 others. He specifically targeted this community with the intent to harm and terrorize them.

And terrorize the community at large.

The message throughout the evening was one of defiance and resilience. Hate would not separate and tear the community apart. Through the tragedy, the city and the community found togetherness and strength.

There were political calls to action, for sure. The lessons of this even must be learned — whatever they might be. The message was one of inclusiveness — denouncing violence in the name of religion or some radical ideology and embracing acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ community targeted and still ostracized in society in many ways.

The city is still mourning. Public displays of grief and solidarity were needed.

This is not the time to care about sports. The time for our sports teams to comfort us will come. Orlando City announced in an open letter to its fans it will not advertise and market its games this week — a midweek U.S. Open Cup game in Jacksonville and a Saturday home game against San Jose — in the same way.

That game Saturday at Camping World Stadium will be some amazing catharsis for the city. Hopefully Orlando City can deliver the win and give the city something to celebrate. That is the power sports can bring.

Magic CEO Alex Martins joined Mike Bianchi on Open Mike on 96.9 The Game on Monday morning and spoke about sports’ role in the healing process:

"“No, it’s not just about entertainment,” Martins said. “Of course, that’s our business and it helps distract people from the things that are of concern to them. In some ways, we will do that. But most importantly, we’re a forum because of the mass amount of people that follow us whether it’s through social media or through our fans or through our broadcasts, we have a forum to help educate. And we’ve tried to do that at the Orlando Magic in many, many different forums through our associations.“Through the Chamber of Commerce for example, that celebrates every gender, ethnicity in our community, we’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to partner with those in the LGBT community as we have over the course of the past several years to help educate our fans about the differences that exist among all of us. And we will also utilize our podium as a forum to help raise funds for those that have been personally impacted by this and need our financial assistance."

The Orlando Magic and the DeVos Family Foundation were one of several businesses within Orlando to pledge $100,000 to the One Orlando Fund to benefit the families and those affected by this weekend’s tragedy.

The games are merely a distraction and a stand in for public unity. It is in these moments you find out how together and close-knit your community really is.

It is something we have known about Orlando for a long time. This is a growing city that still has a small-town feel. Citizens of Orlando care about each other and stand together.

They have always done so, as former Magic center John Amaechi related in an interview with the Sports RX on 96.9 The Game on Monday:

"“It’s definitely a gradual process,” Amaechi said. “Begin to talk about sports and do other things, but also see what you can do around your city. There are really practical things related to the tragedy itself like donating blood and things like that or ways you can reach out and be a better citizen. We can all do that.“Orlando was my place to play in the NBA. It’s the place where I was best. But also a place where people really embraced the idea of having this weird Brit who talked about psychology and stuff outside of sports and drank too much tea. People really embraced that difference and made me feel welcome.“There are people within the community in Orlando who really need, the majority of people, who perhaps would not necessarily touch the subject normally and embrace their difference too and make them feel apart of the community. Especially after this.”"

Amaechi has a direct tie to the community, not only from his playing days but also as one of the first NBA players to come out of as gay following his playing career. He often speaks up for the LGBTQ community, the community directly attacked Sunday morning.

Orlando has stood tall in the days since that terrible attack.

Things will continue moving toward normal. Sports will be there to make things feel normal again very soon.

Next: Find out how you can help donate blood from One Blood

Monday, the city shared its collective grief and showed its resolve once again. Orlando is more together than ever.