This past weekend in Philadelphia, a significant portion of the lacrosse world was in town to take part in LaxCon, US Lacrosse’s premier event. This event brings together lacrosse coaches, players, fans, media, equipment manufacturers, retailers and just about any sort of goods or services vendor you could think of related to the sport. People run through educational sessions all weekend long and the days are grueling. So, with this daunting schedule on the horizon, it was a breath of fresh air to see that the Georgia Swarm were in town play the resurrected Philadelphia Wings in the Wings’ second home game this season. As many know by now, this game was overshadowed by the words of a few towards Lyle Thompson. But, though they were only a few, those words shook the lacrosse world.
It honestly is a shame that this happened. That sentence doesn’t even capture the magnitude of what happened correctly, but I honestly don’t know what can. It was US Lacrosse Night at the game in the Wells Fargo Center and people from all over the lacrosse world, in addition to the regular Philly fans, were in attendance as part of a crowd that overflowed from the lower bowl to the upper deck of the arena. If you did not hear about what happened at that game, take a look at the tweet from Lyle Thompson himself concerning the former Philadelphia Wings’ public address announcer and a few fans behind the Swarm bench:
2019 and the @NLLwings arena announcer saying “let’s snip the pony tail” to the whole arena and fans saying they’re going to scalp me…. damn Daniel.
— LYLE THOMPSON (@lyle4thompson) January 13, 2019
Yes. That happened.
This is where I need to mention my first-hand experience. I spent part of the game up in the press box part of it down with the crowd taking photos. The PA announcer was doing what PA announcers do during NLL games: largely trying to get the crowd pumped up, coordinate chants and directing promotions during breaks. It’s a relatively minor but essential role to providing a great gameday experience. Now, Philly fans are notorious for going over the line when it comes to their hatred of anything non-Philly. Before the game, the announcer asked the fans to welcome the Swarm during the lineups, to which the fans would yell, “Sucks!” after each name is called. This happens at other arenas and is hardly controversial. I often see visiting teams smile and laugh during these types of intros. When you’re a visitor, you expect the “hostile” environment and take pleasure in silencing the opposing crowd by playing as well as you can. That’s just sports.
Things started going downhill when the announcer took as many chances to lob slight insults towards the Swarm. Making fun of the color yellow? I didn’t know yellow was a bad color, but whatever works for you. While I was in the crowd taking photos, I was never near the bench areas where Lyle Thompson heard the scalping comments mentioned in his tweet. I actually never heard with my own ears anything from the crowd. But after reaching out to several other who I knew were in those areas, they could confirm that some lines were severely crossed. This included the section where the Thompson family was sitting who reportedly changed from laughing off things early in the game to getting very uncomfortable.
Then, things went up to the loudspeakers. I first remember hearing things in the fourth quarter. The intensity of the game was ratcheting up as the Wings were making it closer. That’s also why I say it’s a shame this happened. On the floor, this was a superb game, but it becomes the part of the night talked about the least. Rather than writing paragraphs on Wings’ head coach Paul Day’s comments that his defense was just “watching Lyle Thompson shoot” in the first quarter to locking down in the second half, the focus shifted entirely to the Wings front office. The Wings nearly knocked off the team widely regarded as the best in the league right now, and had Kevin Crowley back in town after a huge trade. There were so many sports story lines that they were almost writing themselves. But those story lines took a backseat once the PA announcer decided to latch onto the idea of “cutting off that ponytail”.
This is another moment to add what I heard and saw while I was there. The first time it was said, myself and others did a double take. It’s one of those things where you say to yourself, ‘Did I just hear…?’ and hope you were wrong or that it was mistake. As I was bringing that up with the people next to me, you start hearing it again. Then you know it’s not a mistake.
Immediately, the lacrosse world was overwhelmingly asking for names, and wanted action. The Wings issued a short apology, but that satisfied hardly anyone. It lacked the details people were looking for. Social media moves significantly faster than any corporation can, so this wasn’t a shock. Condemnation came from players, the league, teams, US Lacrosse and fans. Eventually, the Wings followed up with this tweet on Monday:
Statement from the Wings pic.twitter.com/dojPb2w3s1
— Philadelphia Wings (@NLLwings) January 14, 2019
Not everyone loves this response, but personally, I feel it was a good conclusion.
For the crowd that wanted him to lose his job, this is not enough. He’s still employed by the Wings/Flyers. But, him being removed from his announcer role with the Wings and suspended from announcing games at Wells Fargo Center does a few things.
First, he will no longer be the PA announcer for the Wings. More significantly, he’s also removed from the same duty for the Flyers. Take a step back from the lacrosse world and think about this for a second. Many NLL teams exist because of their NHL counterparts. Buffalo, Colorado, Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Calgary are all sharing resources with those other teams. Removing someone from working the NLL side of the world in some ways can be an easy band-aid with very little lasting effect. Having that boil over into the NHL side of the world shows they really are taking it seriously. And, we don’t know how long this suspension will last.
In terms of education, which employees will receive this? How quickly will it happen? Does it apply to all teams? Who has input? What will it cover? Honestly, the NLL already does a better job than nearly any other lacrosse league in honoring the Native American roots of the game. Nearly a quarter of the league’s teams are owned fully or at least receive significant support from Native Americans. They go much further than anything I’ve ever seen in the field game. So, how can this education really prevent events like this from happening again?
There is one way to prevent this from happening, but for as simple of a solution as it is, it will be incredibly difficult. The easiest way to not cross the line: support your team. At LaxCon and anywhere you can talk to a coach, they love talking about how you can only impact what you can control. You control your own team. Support your team. Why even care about what colors the other team’s jersey is, what city they are from, or what their mascot is? Cheer for your team.
When Lyle Thompson rolls into town, starts making plays and burying shots: get behind your defense. Especially when you’re having just your second home game and the fans are still learning about the team. Don’t focus on Lyle Thompson’s braid and plead ignorance later. Try to get the fans to cheer on your rookie goalie Doug Buchan in net. Get Matt Rambo or Kevin Crowley’s name over the loudspeaker to answer back on the next possession. Cheer on Trevor Baptiste as he grinds out the next draw. This goes for anyone representing the team, and it goes for fans.
LISTEN: Did you miss this week’s Lacrosse Classified podcast? Hosts Jake Elliott and Evan Schemenauer talk with Shawn Evans of the Buffalo Bandits and Team Canada, as well as Dan Dawson of the San Diego Seals in a great interview after the Seals’ home-opening win, the first home win in franchise history. Click here to listen.