Sports

Louisville’s new soccer stadium opened its gates for the first time Sunday to thousands of fans willing to endure masks, temperature checks and the looming threat of coronavirus to become the first spectators in Kentucky to watch live sports since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nearly 5,000 people attended Sunday night’s match between Louisville City FC and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, as viewers around the nation tuned-in on ESPN 2.

It was a night of firsts: the opening of the new Lynn Family Stadium, the first team-based sports with fans in Kentucky since the pandemic began, the first game of the USL Championship season and the first time Louisville racial justice protesters have disrupted a live sports event with fans.

At one point, as protesters banged on the black metal bars of the stadiums gates, holding up signs and waving flags, a single man stood with his fist in the air completing the “I” in the massive “OUR CITY” statue outside the Louisville City FC game.

Above him, a digital billboard read “in our city, there is zero tolerance for racism.”

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

A protester stands with his fist in the air completing the “I” in our city outside the Louisville City FC game.

But in the background of this microcosm of Louisville, it’s impossible to look away from another first: For the first time Kentucky is nearing 20,000 cases of coronavirus. Between July 6 and July 12, there was a 48.75% increase in positive cases of COVID-19, according to a news release from Gov. Andy Beshear.

Beshear’s “no mask, no service” policy went into effect as of Friday at 5 p.m. and was on full display 48 hours later as soccer fans walked into the Lynn Family Stadium. The stadium itself announced a number of rules to protect spectators — all of which were approved of in a plan shared with state officials.

The stadium announced 4,850 fans attended the game — amounting to about 32% of the stadium total capacity. The stadium required masks and temperature checks for all ticket holders before entering the stadium. Inside, they were asked to socially distance and make use of the hand sanitizer set around the facility.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

A temperature check outside the Louisville City FC Game.

One fan, Stuart Steinbock, said it was exciting and scary all at the same time.  He said he was excited to do something he had not done in a long time, but also, “it’s a lot of people,” he said.

“I haven’t been around this many people in months,” Steinbock said.

Brooke Neace said she was a little bit nervous to go to a big event but felt that the stadium had taken sufficient precautions to protect people.

“I mean, everyone is doing what they can to be safe so I just want to… go on living my life,” Neace said.

Just as the game was scheduled to begin, about a hundred or more protesters appeared, to remind the city that they want to see the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor arrested.

One protester used zip ties to attach a “Black Lives Matter” flag to one of the gates, another on roller skates held a sign saying “Kenneth Walker was NOT a drug dealer,” all one hundred marched together, chanted together and took a knee together.

“This doesn’t only affect us, it affects you,” said one a woman into a megaphone, speaking to the people inside the stadium. “So you all can go on with this game like nothing has happened in this city, but it has.”

And as they took that knee, on the other side of the bars, inside the stadium, an audience all wearing masks sat in small socially distanced clusters to watch a soccer game; everyone trying to go on living their lives in their own way.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.