Vancouver Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Brad Knighton was at home watching TV on December 14, when an alert flashed across the screen.
There had been a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and early reports indicated that children had been shot and killed at an elementary school.
Like many across North America, the first emotion he felt was horror. Then, Knighton turned to social media, picking up his phone and scanning Twitter for further details – and as the picture became clearer, that feeling only grew.
“My heart just dropped,” Knighton told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “I didn’t even know what to think – it was just one of those things where you can’t believe that something like that would happen in [the United States], let alone the entire world.”
As a father with a 14-month old daughter, the event shook Knighton to the point where he ran upstairs just to check on her.
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“She was actually taking a nap when all this went on,” Knighton said. “That initial reaction is to make sure your daughter is safe, that your family is safe. Right after I heard the news I just wanted to go upstairs and make sure she was OK.”
When the shock subsided, Knighton wanted to do something to help.
And when he learned about “Soccer Night in Newtown,” an MLS event set for January 7 meant to give the youth of that community a chance to have a night of distraction, he knew he had to be involved.
Along with fellow Whitecaps FC teammate Omar Salgado and more than 30 fellow MLS players, in addition to a number of retired US national team men’s and women’s players, the private event will give Newtown residents and members of the Newtown Youth Soccer Club a chance to lose themselves in the beautiful game for a night.
The evening will include small-sided games, skill stations to work on juggling and shooting, as well as a photo booth. Newtown kids will also be able to get autographs from their favorite players, among other activities.
During Knighton’s childhood, the US national team trained at his soccer club in Richmond, Virginia, in the build-up to the 1994 World Cup – an experience that stuck with him – and now he’s happy to give kids a similarly positive experience, especially given the circumstances Newtown is dealing with.
“We, as players in MLS, are going to do everything in our power to try and help,” Knighton said. “There are kids in that community that look up to us – that might have watched us play on television on the weekends. To get to interact with us for a full day – that’s going to go a long way.
“It’s going to be life-long memories for those kids, and hopefully put a smile on their face – not only for a few minutes -- but for a few hours to get their minds away from the tragedy that’s happened there the last couple of weeks.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.