Editor’s Note: This post focuses on the subject of race in lacrosse and marketing, and some readers may find some of the language used below offensive or objectionable. It is our feeling that an honest conversation will not exist if the story can not include the actual words, and phrases, which create the issue.
Warrior Lacrosse recently used the now infamous #ninjaplease hashtag to promote a new product giveaway via social media, and the phrase also appeared on product pages on their website, as well as in partnership promotions with Major League Lacrosse through their social media.
Once the MLL learned about the brewing controversy, they removed all of their tweets supporting the promotion, and to keep you 100% up to date, we have learned that Warrior has also pulled their side of the campaign.
Jovan Miller took exception to the marketing move publicly, before it was pulled, and gave away all of his Warrior equipment as a result, on Twitter. Deadspin then reported it to the world, and a new negative lacrosse story hit the community. Or did it?
Some people out there may be wondering why this is a big deal, while others are more likely to already be enraged. So please allow me to explain the situation a little more fully, and hopefully, I can shed a little more light on the issue from both sides, so that we can begin to learn and move forward again.
The phrase “Ninja, please” has been around for a while, and it seems to possess a slightly confusing etymology, at least for some. A simple google search results in three very different etymologies and meanings, and they are, in order of Google Results appearance:
- Used to replace “negro please”, which in turn replaces “nigga please” - Urban Dictionary
- Show off your love for the dark martial arts and ninjas, which are undoubtedly awesome. - ClutchTees.com
- The term “Ninja Please” originated due to the increase in Asian popularity. This popularity of Asian Americans became statistically apparent through the use of YouTube. Many of YouTube’s highest subscribed channels were created and operated by Asians. This brought on a new generation of Asians that were breaking all the stereotypes.With this new found popularity, many Asians were seeking a defining word to bring homage to their fellow Asian brothers and sisters. “Ninja” became that word. The use of this term “Ninja” can be best described through this incredibly hilarious YouTube video: ( - Know Your Meme)
I guess that’s “incredibly hysterical”…
While Miller has been one of the most vocal, and outraged, people to speak on this subject in the lacrosse community, he is not the only one. Nor is he the only black lacrosse player to make his opinion known. Chazz Woodson, a former Brine (Brine is owned by Warrior) player, posted some thoughtful points on Facebook, and shared some more thoughts with me when I spoke with him:
The topic can and should be addressed in a constructive way; a dialogue or discussion, rather than an argument over right and wrong. I, personally, have this fascination with honest discussion. There’s no progress unless people are willing to be honest rather than to sugar-coat what they feel. At the same time, we can be honest without being dismissive, adversarial, or blatantly and willfully ignorant.
This particular situation gives us an opportunity to have an open discussion about race in our sport. One of the main hurdles is the idea that when issues of race are brought up in America, it’s often overlooked as not a big deal, or as if the person or persons that bring it up are overreacting. It’s not always nothing, and it’s not always an over-reaction. We can’t overlook the fact that the racial issues still exist.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see something when it doesn’t affect you day in and day out. Despite their track record of questionable marketing, I don’t think Warrior had intentions of offending anyone. But at the same time, now that it’s done, I don’t think it’s something we should ignore, or that it doesn’t matter.
If we can build understanding on what is behind an expression, I think we can all move forward together. For instance, I never thought of the Asian component to the phrase, until it was brought up in a comment on my original Facebook post. But now that I know about it, I’m more aware. If used correctly, this is a “teachable moment” for us all. It’s an opportunity to gain perspective.
Payu Nerngchamnong, the head of the Thailand Lacrosse Association, had a slightly different perspective, and read on things. He had this to say:
I believe that it is unacceptable for a global company (or company of any size for that matter) to use a marketing “slogan, or phrase” that potentially risks offending one or more ethnic groups of people. No amount of money gained from it is worth setting the progress we made in our society with racial sensitivity backward, nor turning any culture in to a “punch line”.
As a member of the modern society I find it inappropriate. As a member of Asian lacrosse community, I am offended that Asian references are being used as a vessel to indirectly offend the black community.
It is also not necessary to use the offensive “Dojo” reference, to identify the Asian (or Japanese) origin of the name of the shoes. I wish that in the future lacrosse companies would take more responsibility, and be more careful about these kind of things, especially now that we’re a more global lacrosse community.
Payu’s comment brings up the use of the word Dojo itself, especially for a shoe product, and begins to explain why that can also be concerning. The idea of a Dojo is sacred and the word has a monasterial history. For some in Asian culture, the feet are the least revered, or dirtiest part of the body, so to name a shoe after a sacred space of learning shows an additional lack, albeit unintentional, of cultural understanding.
When I learned the above (I wasn’t fully aware of the feet belief either before doing some research) I began to see how there are inherent dangers any time race or culture is used for commodification, and how easy it can be to miss things. Something, which means nothing to one person, might mean a lot more to someone else.
When I contacted Warrior for a response to the issue, a Warrior official offered the following statement, explaining how the promotion had been pulled, and issuing an apology:
Warrior did not mean to offend anyone, and we apologize to anyone who was offended by the #ninjaplease promotion. Once we realized that the campaign was being received the way it was, we pulled the social media campaign, deleted the tweets, and social media references, and reached out directly to Jovan Miller to explain our position.
Seeing as one of the top three online descriptions of the phrase’s origins points only to a craze about ninjas, and how cool they are, I can see how the company thought it might be irreverent or even funny. And just as Chazz said, it is unlikely that Warrior’s aim was to offend people. The slogan is all over the place, and does seem to be generally popular. The argument might not hold water for all, but it is plausible, and I have seen nothing to suggest it was anything but what Warrior contends.
However, one must also assume that some amount of research went into this campaign, and once the connection to the phrase “nigga please” became evident (it is the first search result after all), the campaign direction probably should have been given a second look internally. Now that this issue has come up though, it is heartening to see both Warrior and the MLL pull the promotion, and address it head on.
There are really three sides to this issue, and we are curious to know where you stand.
1. Did the blurry etymology and common usage make it okay?
2. Is this a big deal for which blame should be assigned?
3. Or is this an opportunity? And an issue that our community shouldn’t be so quick to sweep under the rug?
For me, the first option doesn’t fly. I personally found it to be offensive, as did many others, and I would rather not see the topic just dropped by the wayside. The second option, of outrage, seems like an obvious answer to many, but I sincerely fear that the path of anger will not lead to increased understanding, and I believe continued progress is key, especially here.
Just look at some of the “intelligent conversation” going down onion the comments sections of other sites, to see an example of this need for further understanding:
For me, this serious issue smacks of opportunity. It is an opportunity to think, learn, and empathize with your fellow man. It is an opportunity to question your own views, and have a real discussion with someone who may feel differently.
It’s a chance for everyone, including Warrior, to come together and be better moving forward. It is not the end of a marketing campaign, but hopefully, the beginning of a passionate, intelligent discussion.
So now that you have heard what I think, what Warrior has done to make it right, and what some big time lacrosse figures think, we want to hear what YOU think!
Is #NinjaPlease-style marketing something that the Lacrosse Community should be worried about? How can we move forward, together, from here?