‘Play Proud’ is designed to educate and train soccer coaches about LGBTQ acceptance

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“Play Proud” is global initiative, powered by Street Football World, that is designed to educate and train soccer coaches about L-G-B-T-Q acceptance by creating “safe spaces” through youth soccer

[MUSIC - SHAWN MENDES, "IN MY BLOOD"] SHAWN MENDES: (SINGING) Help me. It's like the walls are caving in.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: My name is Melina De La Cruz, and I'm from east Harlem. Five years ago, I was doing really bad in school. I was involved with a lot of gang members. I really didn't care.

LILLI BARRETT-O'KEEFE: Saturday Night Lights is a crime and gang prevention program. There's over 200 and 300 unused gyms during the highest crime times in New York City. So what they do is they put high-intensity sport programming into these unused gyms to get youth off the street and into safe spaces.

CARMEN GONZALEZ AYALA: I'm a single mother. One of the coaches helped me a lot with her. And I feel, like, very thankful with her.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: It's like a family. The coaches are really involved with our personal lives.

LILLI BARRETT-O'KEEFE: I really think that that day when Melina came out with her mom was when everything shifted.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: This one week, I remember I got in trouble at school for drinking. Coach Lilli wanted to talk to me and my mom, and we had a conversation about why I was drinking. And I kind of realized it was because I hadn't came out to my mom. I kind of, like, had to use soccer to-- and my coaches to help me come out to my mom.

LILLI BARRETT-O'KEEFE: I really saw the value in being able to kind of foster this conversation between them. Towards the middle of it, you know, Melina just looked at her mom and just said, you know, mom, I'm gay.

SHAWN MENDES: (SINGING) Sometimes I feel like giving up, but I just can't. It isn't in my blood.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: My mom started crying, and I started crying with her.

SHAWN MENDES: (SINGING) It isn't in my blood.

LILLI BARRETT-O'KEEFE: It kind of felt like this weight was lifted.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: Me and my mom became really close.

CARMEN GONZALEZ AYALA: After she told me that, she's like, she feels, like, free. I'm very happy for her. We have to support our kids. I think she's going to have a good future.

LILLI BARRETT-O'KEEFE: Since then, Melina's been entirely sober, has completely left the gang, and has now transformed to being one of the leaders that most of the girls look up to.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: Soccer is a safe space to me because it's an opportunity to express yourself.

CARMEN GONZALEZ AYALA: I'm very proud about her. I want to say thank you to all of them, and I never forget these people.

MELINA DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ: If I was talking to me five years ago, I would say, focus on opening up.

SHAWN MENDES: (SINGING) It isn't in my blood.