Leading up to the Final Four, there was an article in the New York Times titled, As Lacrosse Grows, the Diversity of Players Remains Mostly Unchanged. In the article, Michael Cohen provides a couple of examples and statistics that demonstrate how diversity has not truly come to lacrosse in a major way, even though the sport is growing quickly in overall numbers, and he makes a fair point.
One of the stories told in the article has to do with a Syracuse assistant lacrosse coach using the word “colored” to describe an opponent in front of a black player, and that portion of the story has since taken on a life of its own, after being repurposed on SB Nation.
Personally, I’d like to get past the SB Nation story and that portion of the NY Times article, but it’s not because it’s a touchy subject. It’s because there is a serious game of telephone being played right now. I simply can’t write a sentence that begins, “Michael Cohen wrote that Chazz Woodson said that Drew Jenkins said that Lelan Rogers said…” There is just no way that will be correct.
Now, I’m not doubting that something happened there, or that it’s worth writing about. But I am abstaining from the particulars of this issue until I know more.
What I will say is this: Race is still very much an issue in lacrosse, and it always has been. But then again, race is still an issue in the US (and the world), so how could it NOT still be an issue in lacrosse?
Last year, when the team I was coaching got off the bus for our first game, I heard one of the players on the other team say to his coach, “Coach, they don’t have any white kids...” It was a comment that had to do with race, but I’m pretty confident it was not racist. When I picked up a ball at a practice where I had suited up to play with the team, and ran by one of my players, he said, “Damn, that N—– is fast!” I did make him run a lap (we don’t allow the N word at practice), but I didn’t think he was being racist, even though he called me out using a racially charged word that I find offensive.
The most difficult thing to do is to look at things objectively, and with an open mind. I could have blown up over the opposing player’s comment, but really, what he said was true: we don’t have any white kids on our team. I could have blown up at my player as well, and kicked him off the team for calling his coach the N-word, but I realized that we come from different places, and that I needed to understand him first.
Since then, I have had a couple of conversations with my players about the N-word, and why they use it so much. I know that my mind has been opened up, and that I have learned, and I think they have too.
The big question for lacrosse in general, and for society overall, is whether or not we can talk about race WITH each other, instead of AT each other. Can I tell the two stories I did above, and get conversation and insight back from people? Or will it turn into a debate of extremes and steadfast ideology?
There are certainly cases of right and wrong here, and some are clear cut and extreme, especially in a historical context. Native Americans being excluded from games because of their race for the first 100 years of modern field lacrosse was clearly wrong. Racial epithets and slurs have always been, and will always be, wrong. But for me, it’s not really about one side being right, or the other being wrong… it is about combatting ignorance, and increasing dialogue and understanding, so that we can avoid those same situations in the future, and aim for the day when we are all just people, instead of black people, white people, etc.
What gives me hope that the latter can occur is not what happens on a daily basis. People say dumb things, feelings are hurt, and mistakes are made. The point here is moving forward in a constructive manner, and talking about things in an open and honest way. We may not get every detail right the first time, but if we stick with it, and support each other, our small community can make some big strides. Maybe the next time the Times covers lacrosse, they’ll be talking about the diversity that does exist within the sport… but of course our job still won’t be done then either.
Race is an issue that will persist in the US, and many other parts of the world. Truly moving forward means talking about it, and taking an active role in changing the status quo. I hope the lacrosse community continues to see this as the opportunity that it is, and not a fracturing point, because palpable progress has to start somewhere.
If we haven’t made any real progress yet, as Michael Cohen seems to be saying, why can’t we start here?