Austin FC Goalie Brad Stuver is Building Community On and Off the Field
The fan favorite goalie talks about Austin FC’s fanbase, the incredible Q2 Stadium and serving the underprivileged with The Laundry Project
For fans of Austin FC, goalie Brad Stuver is something of a darling.
“We are a tight-knit group of people who look out for one another,” he wrote recently, in an open letter to supporters. “We stand by each other regardless of the circumstances and we rally behind each other in the good times and the bad.”
The letter was a collaboration between Stuver, his teammates and Austin FC staff. But still, it says something that he put his name on it, that he had the impulse to speak directly to fans, and that he wanted to lift up his community. A community, by the way, that he’s relatively new in: he got to Austin at the tail end of 2020, after three seasons with New York City FC, and five seasons before that with Columbus Crew SC. But Stuver and his wife, Ashley, didn’t waste any time jumping into Austin, and learning how they could make a difference.
Several years ago, the two got involved with The Laundry Project, a nonprofit-backed movement with a simple mission: to wash clothes and linens for low-income families.
“Working with a group like that makes you realize that for a lot of people, having clean clothes isn’t a part of everyday life,” Stuver explains. “People budget their money for the month, and if they need a little more gas or a little more groceries, their clean clothes money goes away. But if volunteers come to the laundromat and help, that’s huge,” he says.
“A child can have clean clothes when they go to school. And maybe they feel more confident, they pay more attention. They don’t run the risk of having other kids mock them,” Stuver tells me.
In essence: a laundromat becomes a place of community care. Loads are getting washed, kids are entertained, volunteers and beneficiaries hang out and talk. It’s the kind of thing that makes you understand Stuver and his priorities, which include doing a killer job on the field (he made a whopping nine saves in a single game last June against Sporting Kansas City). But they also include giving back to a city that’s embraced him.
Born in a small town in Ohio, Stuver is the son of a veteran and a nurse, who modeled community service to him and passed down that practice to Stuver and his brother.
“My mom worked in a nursing home, and both my father and my grandfather were in the military, so we were very much raised with the expectation of, ‘how do you give back?’” It’s an ethos that not only explains Stuver’s heart, but also his sense of discipline. Which is precisely the ingredient Austin FC was looking for, as a fledgling team that built its lineup from scratch.
“Historically new teams do struggle, as you’re still building a style of play, a locker room culture, how you go about day to day work,” says Stuver. “All first year teams go through these same things. But the ones who weather it well, go on to perform well, and ultimately, the way our club will be remembered is by how we operate. Starting with, do we take care of the community that allows us to do this?”
It’s a reflection that makes me stop and pause, because in true “Ted Lasso” fashion, Stuver isn’t just talking about winning when he talks about “weathering it well.” He’s talking about something slightly less tangible, something more along the lines of individual growth and leadership, not to mention gratitude.
“The support here is something I haven’t seen anywhere before,” says Stuver, remarking at the gorgeous Q2 stadium, the fans all too ready to bust out jerseys and paint themselves green and black. Which is a testament to Austin, a quickly growing city that craved this: our own professional sports team. As a boomtown that doesn’t always know how to handle its popularity (see: infamous traffic), we clearly wanted a place where we could come together, natives and newcomers alike. We wanted to root for someone, but not just bruisers. We wanted cool people. We’ve got high standards, y’all.
Which makes Stuver a natural choice for 4ATX Foundation’s 2021 Legend of the Year Award, an honor he earned alongside Central Texas Food Bank President and CEO, Derrick Chubbs. Stuver has been a leader on the field, and is passionate about The Laundry Project, but three years ago, during his stint with NYC FC, he also became an Athlete Ally, advocating for inclusion in sports. It’s an organization that strives to “educate athletic communities at all levels — sport governing bodies, teams, and individual athletes — to understand obstacles to inclusion for LGBTQ people in sports and how they can build inclusive communities on their teams or within their organizations.”
It’s a little remarkable to think back to 2018, right around the time Stuver was getting involved with Athlete Ally, and also right around the time gay male players were starting to publicly come out. In fact, 2021 marks the first year that pro baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer all have an openly out gay male player. Naturally, Stuver seized the opportunity to join the Playing for Pride initiative, a fundraising effort spearheaded by pro soccer player Austin da Luz several years ago. For every save or shutout made, you as the player agree to put a little bit of money away, and ask folks to match you.
“It’s not a grand gesture, it’s more grassroots. But we raised a lot of money this year!” Stuver says happily, who explains that the money went to organizations like Equality Texas, who have been fighting for months at the capitol to shut down anti-trans bills.
I ask Stuver about the team culture that’s starting to emerge at Austin FC, and how he feels about the 4ATX Award. “I’m honored to receive it, and I was a little surprised too, because the truth is, there are so many guys on our team who do charitable actions, who help this community,” says Stuver, who tells me in the same breath about a GoFundMe Matt Besler (Austin FC defender) started in the wake of the deadly winter storm, to help people pay for damaged homes and businesses.
“And that’s what I’m seeing, really. A team that doesn’t just benefit from this community. But a team that wants to be part of the community as a whole.”