While they remain competitors on the field, the Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union will join forces this weekend to raise autism awareness. Players from both sides will wear unique shoelaces with shades of blue, the official color of autism awareness, to kick off Autism Awareness Month on Saturday. The laces themselves were provided by the Autism Society of Ohio.
Crew Assistant Coach Mike Lapper and Union manager John Hackworth both have children with autism. The Union's autism awareness game last season against the Crew inspired Lapper to spread the cause to Columbus.
"It was a great event [in Philadelphia] and I wanted to bring some of that awareness to Columbus since it hit home for me," Lapper explained. "I wanted to get more involved in that push raising awareness. I thought it would be a great idea to just start out small by wearing the shoelaces the first year. Hopefully, as the years progress, we'll gain more knowledge and insight and be able to do a bigger and better job each year."
According to Autism Speaks, the disorder affects one in 88 children and one in 54 boys. By wearing blue shoelaces on Saturday, the two MLS clubs hope to raise awareness to help research the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S..
"We want to bring some recognition to something that is getting to be really prevalent in America," the Assistant Coach continued.
"From a fan and media standpoint, we just want to let people know that autism is unfortunately growing the wrong way in numbers."