Seattle Sounders FC today announced, in conjunction with global impact movement Common Goal, that the club is hosting the opening training series for the 2023 Play Proud program, a comprehensive LGBTQ+ inclusion training curriculum that offers a holistic and collective approach to creating inclusive soccer communities, with a focus on under-resourced and marginalized populations. Common Goal and Play Proud work to fight back against discrimination and promote greater inclusion in soccer and beyond, with a commitment to implementing diversity, equity and inclusion training in key soccer markets in the United States ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
The program includes 100 hours of in-person LGBTQ+ inclusion training by Play Proud and its partners, taking part over the course of two week-long workshops. Sounders FC will host and participate in the opening week of training, taking place in Seattle April 4-7. The Rave Green are the first MLS club to host a Play Proud training session.
As part of this year’s Play Proud program, Common Goal has partnered with leading soccer clubs, supporters’ groups and community-based organizations from across North America. A coalition of clubs representing Major League Soccer, the National Women’s Soccer League, USL Championship, USL League One and the Canadian Premier League are taking part in this year’s Play Proud events, including: Sounders FC (MLS), Toronto FC (MLS), Gotham FC (NWSL), Kansas City Current (NWSL), Union Omaha (USL League One), New Mexico United (USL Championship), Detroit FC (USL Championship) and Vancouver FC (CPL). The 2023 club coalition joins Common Goal’s ongoing club partners such as Tigres UNAL (Liga MX), Angel City Football Club (NWSL) and the Philadelphia Union (MLS) in their commitment in completing 100 hours of diversity, equity and inclusion training.
“We are honored and excited to host one of this year’s Play Proud workshops,” said Sounders FC Chief Operating Officer Maya Mendoza-Exstrom. “As a club, Sounders FC remains steadfast in its support for the LGBTQ+ community in meaningful ways, which includes an ongoing commitment to build internal capacity in partnership with experts. As one of the most comprehensive programs dedicated to creating inclusive soccer communities, Common Goal’s Play Proud provides even more of that expert training. We know that sport has the power to effect societal and cultural change and it’s an honor to join with this coalition of likeminded organizations as we all work toward the ultimate goal of using our platforms to stand for equality and inclusion.”
Sounders FC’s representatives for Play Proud include front office leadership, community representation through RAVE Foundation and a member of the Emerald City Supporters selected by ECS leadership. Hearkening to the club’s principle of Democracy in Sports – a pillar of the franchise that believes that fans of the team are empowered to have a real, tangible say in the organization – Sounders FC is working alongside ECS to ensure that fans and supporters are active contributors to the work being done.
Play Proud provides participating clubs and organizations with training, resources and support to help create inclusive policies and practices within their organizations. In collaboration with Impact International, Inside Inclusion, Stonewall UK and HTVB, the workshops feature discussions and presentations from leading LGBTQ+ athletes and advocates, as well as interactive sessions aimed at promoting inclusive leadership. Common Goal plans to work across every host city and key soccer market by the 2026 FIFA World Cup with the goal of creating safe and inclusive stadiums, enabling access to soccer programming in under-represented communities and upskilling youth-based coaches in trauma-informed practices.
“All too often DEI initiatives and solution-based approaches are disconnected and fragmented from the needs of the community,” said Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe, Executive Director of Common Goal USA and Founder of Play Proud. “Historically we see that professional clubs, fans, brands and youth-centered programming work in isolation. We want to disrupt that pattern. All the key stakeholders across the soccer ecosystem must work together in order for authentic change to happen.”
The Play Proud initiative is part of Common Goal's wider efforts to use soccer as a tool for social change. Common Goal is an inclusive movement aiming to empower all soccer stakeholders to create action-based solutions to the social and environmental causes that they and their communities feel most passionate about.
Along with representatives from the participating clubs, Play Proud also welcomes leading community organizations to its diversity and inclusion training. The 2023 Community Organization cohort includes: RAVE Foundation, South Bronx United, Football for the World, Somos Unidos, Global FC, MLSE, Canada SCORES Vancouver and Detroit FC Foundation.
To discover more about opportunities to become part of Play Proud, or how to join other Common Goal collective projects around themes such as racial justice, gender equity, climate action and mental health, visit Common-Goal.org.
SOUNDERS FC’S ONGOING WORK
Sounders FC’s work with Common Goal and Play Proud is a part of the club’s continuing commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The club’s Social Justice Framework – the strategy screen that guides the club’s consistent actions, investments and impacts – includes as one of its four main tenets, “Stand for LGBTQ+ Equality.” Expanding upon this tenet, Sounders FC commits to the following:
Sounders FC is an ally and advocate for the broader LGBTQ+ community.
We amplify voices of partners, seek to educate ourselves and lead from within our sport to create inclusive spaces for all.
Sounders FC works to make Washington state the most inclusive place for gender-diverse youth to play soccer in the United States.
We work with experts to create and share gender-inclusive policies within youth sports and our workplaces.
Within these core beliefs, Sounders FC dedicates itself to consistent action over time that creates stronger and more equitable spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, working through the lenses of education, allyship and advocacy.
Education: Sounders FC seeks to educate itself as an organization and the community through educational training and listening to the voices of experts.
The club recognizes that listening to and receiving guidance from experts within the LGBTQ+ community and organizations already doing good work within these spaces is critical in establishing the most effective practices. In addition to the new relationships with Common Goal and Play Proud, Sounders FC has well-founded and ongoing partnerships with organizations such as:
• Gender Diversity – Gender Diversity has been a partner of Sounders FC since 2019 and is collaborating with Sounders FC this season to implement gender inclusivity trainings and consulting across all facets of the club, including a recently completed training session with the team’s entire business staff, with the technical staff and players to follow later this summer. Sounders FC and Gender Diversity have previously worked together on training visits and soccer clinics for gender-diverse youth and hosted a film screening and panel discussion during Trans Pride Seattle 2020.
As an organization, Gender Diversity increases the awareness and understanding of the wide range of gender diversity in children, adolescents and adults by providing family support, building community, increasing societal awareness and improving the well-being for people of all gender identities and expressions.
• Athlete Ally – Athlete Ally is a nonprofit LGBTQI+ athletic advocacy group that believes everyone should have equal access, opportunity and experience in sports, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Athlete Ally’s mission is to end the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sport and to activate the athletic community to exercise its leadership to champion LGBTQI+ equality.
Athlete Ally first collaborated with Sounders FC in 2017 to host the “Equality in Sports” press conference, which marked first time that all of a major city’s professional sports teams had ever come together to make a collective statement supporting the LGBTQI+ community. Athlete Ally is hosting collegiate athletes and allies from across the country at a national symposium in Seattle this June, and Sounders FC looks forward to working with the organization and amplifying its work to empower athletes and develop meaningful allyship.
• Center for Equity and Inclusion – Now in the second year of partnership, Sounders FC and CEI continue intensive training and education for staff with the in developing and implementing the club’s first equity plan later this year.
Allyship: Sounders FC looks to further positive health outcomes – mental, social and emotional – for gender-diverse youth and commits to using its platform to provide opportunities for visibility and solidarity. Sounders FC convenes and amplifies the voices of experts.
The Rave Green are proud to be visible allies for the LGBTQ+ community and will continue to show this support in a variety of ways. This year, the team’s annual Pride Match returns on June 24 as Sounders FC takes on Orlando City SC. A wide range of exciting activations are planned to celebrate Pride, including items fans have come to expect, such as the flying of a giant Progress Pride flag at Lumen Field in collaboration with OL Reign and other Pride-themed matchday visuals, one-of-a-kind player jerseys with Pride-themed numbers to be autographed and auctioned to support inclusive places for youth to play sports and more.
Sounders FC and OL Reign are also continuing to partner as allies on several upcoming projects. Later this spring, the two clubs are hosting a soccer clinic for gender-diverse youth, using soccer to unify and create safe and inclusive spaces for youth to play and be themselves.
The club will release further details surrounding all of these activities in the coming months.
Advocacy: Sounders FC advocates for inclusive places for gender-diverse youth to play soccer and within our workplaces and collaborates with partners to create and share inclusive policies.
Seattle’s advocacy work is being strengthened by the club’s new partnership with Play Proud, as Sounders FC representatives commit to expand internal capacity to build inclusive places through soccer and club systems, governance and policies to lead within our sport for to make our community stronger and more equitable.
The team is invested in ensuring that Washington State remains the most inclusive state in the nation for gender-diverse youth. In 2021, Sounders FC led the charge to convene all of Seattle’s professional sports teams to publicly support the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and its then-newly released gender-inclusive toolkit.
In partnership with Aidan Key, Director of Gender Diversity, WIAA was the first state activities association to enact policy regarding transgender sport and activity participation. Successful policy and practices supporting the participation of all students, regardless of how they identify, was developed in 2007 by the WIAA office and written into the handbook for the 2007-2008 school year. The WIAA assessed and improved its Gender Identity Participation philosophy and eligibility rules in 2019 and continues to stand as one of 16 state athletic associations with fully inclusive policies that help facilitate the full participation of trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming students in high school athletics.
Designed by experts at WIAA and Gender Diversity, the free digital toolkit was distributed to 900+ athletic directors and coaches across the state. The toolkit was produced to address the national dialogue around transgender and nonbinary students, teaching best practices and providing resources to assist in the development of supporting and non-discriminatory environments for youth.
Sounders FC plans to continue to be a vocal advocate for policies statewide and nationwide that support inclusivity.
As work in all areas of the club’s Social Justice Framework continues to develop, Sounders FC is committed to transparency, communication and collaboration with its supporters, fans and the greater community. For further information regarding any of the programs or activities mentioned here, please contact a member of Sounders FC Communications.