Alex Wright, DCFC co-owner and Chief Creative Officer of the Detroit City Football Club (DCFC), describes the atmosphere during Pride Month as one of the most electrifying, intense experiences that any fan could have.
"The game starts, the crowd is packed, everyone is decked in rainbow gear, and then the rainbow smoke pops," he said. "I don't think there's anywhere on the planet that's celebrating sport and Pride in that way."
As for myself, I wasn't expecting to be swept up in a sea of rainbows, rouge and gold as I made my way into Keyworth Stadium for a recent Detroit City Football Club (DCFC) men's team match. But it was a welcome surprise.
I was excited to see DCFC take on the visiting Los Angeles Force, a team I had grown fond of as an L.A. resident before my recent move to Southeast Michigan. It was exciting to see some of my familiar Californians in my hometown, though I was having second thoughts about my wardrobe choice that day — a t-shirt supporting the visiting Force.
I later described my experience to Wright as simultaneously the most welcoming environment for visitors and the most angry environment to a visiting team I had ever experienced.
I explained to him that, after being lead through the Northern Guard supporter section, I covered my shirt with my jacket despite the warm weather — not to attempt to pass better in a traditionally heteronormative space — but so that my visitor status would be hidden. My fears were put to rest when a stranger covered in rainbow bandanas and plenty of DCFC apparel turned around and welcomed me.
This happened multiple times throughout the match — someone saw my shirt and welcomed me, asking how I was enjoying the experience. There was a general scoff at supporting the visitor team, but I was inducted quickly into the supporter ranks. Before long, I was joining the crowd in cheers, jeers and dances.
Wright said the experience I had was "on purpose and intentional."
"What you experienced was the result of a couple different things," he said. "Those of us who started the club see ourselves as stewards of this. We're hosting the party, but it's not our party. We set ground rules for behavior, for speech, and for treatment for your fellow spectators that, as long as folks adhere to those standards, whatever else people say goes, right?"
Wright added, "You're going to hear a bunch of swearing, but you can't be mean to other people based on their identity."
Wright shared that the intentionally inclusive environment at DCFC games evolved from the teams' roots as the Detroit City Football League, which focused on its neighborhood involvement within the city of Detroit in response to a community desire to participate in a soccer experience that felt "sporting."
"You had a bubbling, passionate soccer fan base without a team," Wright explained. "You had an entire group of people who not only love sports, but also felt unfilled by current sporting options."
Wright shared that the genesis of DCFC was through a co-ed soccer league based around Detroit neighborhoods and that it was a competition built of wins, losses and community service hours.
"You had to be out in the community, taking pictures and sending it back to the league if you wanted to be a part of this," he said. "That was baked into the DNA into the DCFC before we started DCFC. As we grew, we became more focused and committed to supporting organizations who are doing good in our community."
Wright said DCFC supporters, especially the Northern Guard, responded to the blueprint the organization had laid out. "We gave them the space to be creative and to express themselves in what they cared about and allowed them to support soccer in a way that their own support voice compelled them to," he explained. "One of the many, many outcomes of that is Prideraiser. Once we were made aware of it, we were like, let's go all out."
The campaign raised $21,650 dollars — that's $2,706.24 per goal scored by the DCFC women and men's teams while in their home stadium. According to the campaign website, 239 individual donors signed up to donate.
Wright also highlighted DCFC's partnerships with the Ruth Ellis Center, including helping trans youth perform a public declaration of their name.
"It's like old-timey laws that you have to have a ‚Äòpublic declaration,' like you have to post your marriage in this town square. And we helped them because a soccer game is a public declaration," he said.
"That moment is the sort of thing you work for when you are trying to create a sporting culture. Most of the time you're trying to win soccer games and sell tickets, and that's really hard to do in a post-COVID world. But you can do those things and be a successful business and still find these moments where you're actually changing lives in ways that no one could possibly expect," he said.
Wright said DCFC sees itself as "of this moment" — a part of Detroit's growth. "A big part of that is recognizing the humanity of other people," he said. "We are all here together because we love soccer, but we are in a community that if we work together, we can change for the better. Lifting up our neighborhoods and our city are as important to us as lifting up this game.
Since my first DCFC experience, the men's team has gone on to win the 2021 NISA Championship against the Los Angeles Force. I attended that match wearing DCFC colors.