Ray Gaddis made his 200th career MLS start when the Philadelphia Union clinched a spot in the MLS Is Back Tournament Knockout Stage, presented by Audi, and players around the league showered him with praise.
One match earlier, when the Union defeated NYCFC, Gaddis came out for the second half a message of praise of his own:
Both Gaddis’ grandmother and grandfather contracted COVID-19 and the Union right back visited them - always from a safe distance - as they struggled to overcome it. His grandfather, James Darty, survived. Aletha Mae did not.
Now James is adjusting to life without his other half, and Gaddis is playing on without someone he describes as one of his pillars of support, a warm and welcoming presence he returned to every time he was in Indianapolis. “I would normally come in, give her a hug, sit on the porch and just talk to her about life, about where I've been,” he remembers. “She would always tell people where I'd been, who I played for, whether we won or not, and she really knew the stats lines - but it was different when I went back [this time].
“I thank her though, because she was a guardian angel. She was protecting me and ensuring my health because she knew something was going on with her. I assure people that you can do everything right - she distanced herself from people, took all the necessary precautions - but this disease can get anybody.”
That message, the idea that we must all be guardian angels for the people in our lives during this pandemic, is why Gaddis chose to speak openly about such a painful moment in his life.
“Sometimes I think that people don't think that this disease will affect them until, suddenly, it truly affects them,” he explained. “I always took it very seriously, but it hit home for me when everything shut down and I was home and saw my grandparents in the state they were in. It was very tough.
“I chose to honor her to bring awareness to how it's necessary to do everything you can to protect not only yourself from COVID-19, but also to protect loved ones, elderly family members who may have underlying health issues already, and to drive home to people that this disease is very real.”
“My grandfather is a pastor,” Gaddis continued. “The things he described to me about how he felt when I FaceTimed with him in the hospital as he was going through something that I wouldn't wish on anyone... he gave a very detailed record of how it felt, and I'll spare people those details, but he was descriptive to me about how it felt day to day. And I just thank the lord for saving him and keeping him the land of the living.”
For the past three weeks, Gaddis has been in Orlando in the MLS bubble as the Union compete in the MLS Is Back Tournament. One positive test can derail his entire team’s chances in the competition and undo all the hard work they put in to get back on the pitch.
More importantly, it can put the health of so many people at risk, both in the short- and long-terms.
“It's not always easy to follow all the protocols, but it's essential right now. We see how the numbers have gone up -- it's just vital at this time,” Gaddis emphasized. “If we want to get back to normal, we have to do some things we've never done before. Wearing a mask isn't normal for any of us, but if it can reduce cases and deaths, if it can reduce the number of people put in jeopardy, I think all of us should be complying with whatever it is that can keep others around us safe.”
Major League Soccer only allowed players to wear patches honoring loved ones or sending social justice messages for one game, but every time Gaddis takes the pitch his grandparents will be in his heart. One day, his grandfather may even be able to come to Subaru Park to watch him play. And Gaddis knows that his grandmother is always watching. Not from the stands or her home in Indianapolis, but from heaven, ever his unofficial statistician and guardian angel.