(Photo Courtesy of Major League Lacrosse)
This past week in lacrosse has been exhausting and one for many. Not only was it the start of the PLL Championship Series and the end to a COVID-19 impacted MLL week-long season, but it was a week of fighting for change.
From putting pressure on the MLL and Commissioner Sandy Brown to recognize and allow league-endorsed coverage of the league’s four black players, Chad Toliver, Mark Ellis, Kris Alleyne, and Isaiah Davis-Allen, standing in solidarity during the national anthem prior to games to what seemed like the majority of the lacrosse world standing up for the Iroquois Nationals to be included at the World Games in 2022 in Birmingham Ala. it was a hectic week in the game.
And while those who joined in the fight on either front helped move mountains this week, the fight is not over. It is far from over. To quote New York Lizards player Mark Ellis, “It’s a movement, not a moment.” And this movement is just getting started.
Lacrosse, as a whole, has a problem. A racial problem. It’s not everybody, but there are a good amount of people in our game, from coaches to players, and parents, who hold centuries-old racial aggressions. And most of them don’t even pretend to know or want to acknowledge that they hold these views. These ideas and thoughts that many in this game have must be erased in order for this game to grow and flourish into what it can truly be.
When I post something like this image below on Twitter and Instagram, there is a lot of support that follows. And that is fantastic. But there is also a flurry of racial charged and hateful replies and DM’s that follow. I have had to deal with it all week.
Forget the games, the most powerful images from @MLL_Lacrosse opening day were the league’s four black players standing at midfield or separate from everyone else as a form of protest during the national anthem before their games. #BlackLivesMatter
📸: MLL/Pretty Instant pic.twitter.com/653XXJL1XP
— Lacrosse Bucket (@LacrosseBucket) July 19, 2020
Yes, some people just simply commented “Unfollowed” and basic things like that. And that’s fine. I don’t care. But when you start commenting and dm’ing messages like, “Quit supporting this terrorist organization you a**hole”, “Leave this country if you don’t like it.”, or “Pathetic. Don’t disrespect my flag.” That is when a line has been crossed and you will be blocked and reported.
The most disturbing thing about these messages is who it’s coming from. The majority of racially charged messages I have received this week were from people in one of two groups. Either Older, white men or women or white kids around high school and early college age. And all of them were people involved in lacrosse someway, somehow. That is the most frightening part because people like this simply don’t belong in lacrosse.
Lacrosse is the medicine game. It is supposed to bring people together. Anyone with any views like the ones previously stated, do not represent that aspect of this beautiful game that we all hold dear.
But if you really know lacrosse history, you will know that in the early days of the modern game there was an effort made to keep the game “white” and racist rhetoric, like the things mentioned above, was everywhere. In fact, in George Beers’ original rules of lacrosse, it is stated that natives couldn’t play with white men unless invited.
One example of the way in which they (white people) tried to enforce this rule in the early days of the game, especially to catch more European looking Native Americans from trying to pass as white, was to grow these profound mustaches. There was a theory, which was obviously wrong, that Native Americans couldn’t grow facial hair and so the players of European descent grew these big mustaches to signify that they weren’t native. So next time you want to comment on that aspect of an old lacrosse picture in a joking or complementary manner, just know the context. It’s ok if you didn’t that prior to reading this, but now you do.
The enforced exclusivity in lacrosse in the first 100 years or so of its existence as a modern game still hinders the game today. Where is lacrosse mostly found? In wealthier, white areas on the East Coast. And where do you think and whom do you think modernized the game? Wealthier, white men on the East Coast.
Now, these demographics have changed pretty drastically over the years, but that stereotype still persists and that demographic still has a pretty big hold on the game. That is not to say that people in that demographic are bad or that they don’t want change. Because I know for a fact that many of them do. But for one to understand how the game can move forward in the diversity and social justice realm, one must understand the history. Because that is truly where many of the problems we see today stem from, whether it is a widely known and accepted fact or not.
The Fact of the matter is that lacrosse was and has been exclusive to a specific group of people for hundreds of years, and only a small minority group has been able to enter the space, flourish, and feel comfortable to an extent. That must change if lacrosse truly wants to be on the same stage as sports like basketball and football.
The majority of players and coaches in those sports are socially aware. Most of them don’t live in a bubble and only get their information on people who might not look like them from the evening news, where, more or less, that group of people who doesn’t look like them won’t always be portrayed in the best of manners. At the moment, the same can’t be said for lacrosse people, overall.
If lacrosse wants to be on the same as those sports, then y’all better start listening and educating yourselves on what YOU can do to create change in this game. Every single person has an obligation to better this game in any way they can. Whether you are a player, coach, fan, or parent, you can help create change and make Lacrosse space where everyone is and feels welcomed at all times.
Whether you are a coach, player, or parent you can do this. You hear something said by someone that is or sounds racially charged, confront them, or make the situation know to an authority figure. And that is as simple as you can get when it comes to helping change the game.
Any individual in the game can also take their actions to promote change to another level. If you are a coach or parent, educate your players or kid(s) on what is right and what is wrong. And if you can, thrown in a little accurate history so they fully understand the whole context. If a child grows up hearing and seeing things that are not ok go unaddressed or unpunished, what will they believe?
Furthermore, the game of Lacrosse needs to do a better job, overall, exposing some of that rich, all-white teams are the youth and club level to teams that have a majority or minority players. And this needs to be done at an early age. And better yet, find ways to diversify these youth teams across the nation. It might help decrease the number of cases we see yearly of African-American players being attacked verbally or physically in games.
Honestly, there is a lot that NEEDS to be done in this game to make it better. And the ideas mentioned above are just scratching the surface.
This is a movement, people. And we need all of you to jump on this ship and help create change together. We are stronger together than apart. If you posted on #BlackoutTuesday and haven’t done jack since, what are you waiting for?
Lacrosse, we are behind the eight ball on this thing. But it is our turn to step up and change for the better. And for anyone in lacrosse who doesn’t want to do that, get out.