(Photo Courtesy of Virginia Athletics)
As a white man in America, I will never absolutely know or understand the struggles of being black in America. But I have always and will continue to stand with my black brothers and sisters in the ever-present battle against the systemic racism that the black community has fought for too long.
The lacrosse community needs to lock arms in this battle. We should have already been doing this. But for some reason, many in the lacrosse community have stayed silent until now. For that, I am outraged.
The black voices in our game have spoken up before and have continued to do so in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubery. But the game needs all voices to speak up and do our part to end systemic racism, which is alive and well in lacrosse. Whether you want to acknowledge that fact or not, racism exists in the great game that we all love and we need to fix it.
We all know, or should know, the history of this great game. It’s Native American origins are fascinating and truly makes the history of the game one of the greatest stories ever told. And we take pride in being the oldest sport on the continent or fastest sport on two feet. But ever since European colonizers appropriated the game, not too much has changed.
And the one issue that has remained in lacrosse through the sports existence that many do not want to face is race.
Black, Native, and other minority players have been subject to racist taunts, slurs, and more for way too long. And these problems are not distant at all. There have been horrific events take place in our game very recently.
Just a few months ago, Amherst fired head coach Jon Thompson after a disgusting racist incident involving members of the lacrosse team. Lyle Thompson had racist slurs hurled at him during an NLL game in Philadelphia last season. In 2013, Syracuse defensive coordinator Lelan Rogers, who is somehow still on staff, called an opposing player “colored” during a scouting report.
And those are just three of the most “high-profile” incidents over the past decade or so.
Even beyond those incidents, other prejudices exist widely in our game.
How are black players often described in lacrosse? Athletic. Quick. Strong. How many times do we hear about the off the charts lacrosse IQ that a black player has? Not much, if ever. What position do black players seem to occupy the most? short-stick defensive midfield. How often do we see a championship-winning team where a black player is a focal point of the offense? Outsides of a few very prominent examples, not too often.
The game needs to address these issues, and address them NOW!
Lacrosse is the medicine game. It is meant for everyone, no matter your race, religion, or socioeconomic status. But unfortunately, that reality is not widespread in our game yet.
Yes, the game of lacrosse is in a better place and is more diverse than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s. But it hasn’t changed as much as it should have. When you watch a game in person or on TV, you see very little minority presence amongst the players and coaches, alike. That is an atrocity in itself. It is invigorating.
While the game has great organizations like Harlem Lacrosse, Nation United, and many others that make it their mission to spread the game in “non-stereotypical areas” and promote and increase the diversity in the game, we must do more.
The process of diversifying the game has been way too slow. But we can fix that. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen faster than many may think it can.
No one person has all the answers for how we can make this game better for everyone, so it will take a fully conscious effort from all to get the game to where we all want it to be. Whether that means making the game more accessible for all, amplifying minority voices in the sport, providing education to coaches and players on race and racism, or something else entirely, we all must do our part to make this game better for all.
As an individual, you can start creating a better place in our sport and nation through listening and education. Listen to black and minority voices and what they have to say about the systemic racism they face every day. Pick up a book, watch a film, read an article or listen to a podcast on African-American history or racism in America.
Those of us who are white will never fully understand the atrocities that our black and brown brothers face on a daily basis but learning about it and accepting that racism is still very much a problem is where you must start if you want to help make a change in the lacrosse world or the world as a whole.
If lacrosse doesn’t change now, when will we?