Jovan Miller is a former MLL and Syracuse lacrosse player, and he recently shared a post on his site called “Dear Lacrosse”. In the post, Jovan brings up some of the recent and historical racial issues in the sport of lacrosse, and makes a personal plea for others to speak up, or share their opinion. He specifically asked us at LAS to respond, and my thoughts on the matter can be found below.
First, a little background…
In addition to being a pro lacrosse player, Jovan Miller has also been an outspoken proponent and activist pushing for a meaningful discussion on racial issues in lacrosse, and his thoughts have not always been met with the warmest of receptions. On the other hand, Miller does not typically mince his words, and he speaks from the heart, and while this can add to an already charged atmosphere, Jovan Miller has not backed away from the issue of race.
I spoke with Jovan Miller last week and he filled me in a little more on what he hopes to accomplish with his post. He said he wanted to see something actually happen, and was frustrated that we seem unable to move forward. As Miller himself looks forward in the game, the roles of proponent and activist are things he is hoping to embrace more, in order to continue to bring this conversation to the forefront of our sport’s collective consciousness. Before reading my response, it is definitely worth your time to read Jovan’s original post.
Connor Wilson’s Response to “Dear Lacrosse”
Few things in America get people more riled up than the issue of race. Completely civil conversations about equality, freedom, sports, business, politics, opportunity, and community can be thrown off track the second race is brought into the dialogue. Whether people see racial issues everywhere, nowhere, or somewhere in between, they often feel strongly about their point of view, and seem entrenched to their perspective for a multitude of complex reasons.
At the end of the day, no matter what you believe, the above scenario makes it almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation about race in the United States outside of hushed tones with close friends in dark corners. This is not going to lead to a productive way forward no matter how you may view the issue.
Go ahead, try to have an in-depth conversation about race with someone who isn’t a trusted friend, or with someone who disagrees with your perspective strongly. Could you do it, honestly? Would you be worried about offending the other person with the slightest remark? Would you be able to keep your cool and share a well-crafted idea? No matter what your point of view is, could you keep your emotions in check, and actually make some progress?
Let me answer those questions for you – NO, most people can not do much, if any, of the above. This is part of the reason that race is such a contentious issue in this day and age – people literally can’t even bring themselves to talk about it.
Ok, maybe YOU can act in that way, or you know “plenty of people” who can also do that… That’s great! But most people simply can not do this, and again, it is evidenced by the general topic of race relations in this country. When race comes up in a conversation, most people either shrink away from it, or go ballistic.
It is troubling to me if those are our only two options.
For some people, when they read Jovan Miller’s post, they may tend to believe that he went ballistic. Perhaps you found some of the things he said to be over the top, or maybe you found it to be perfectly on point, or perhaps you disagreed with his entire perspective, but something struck me about the first couple lines of Miller’s post… So before you get too wrapped up in your agreements or disagreements, give the opening paragraph another read, because it’s where Miller makes a truly fantastic point, and it’s kind of easy to gloss over, especially when it’s such a contentious topic of conversation:
“Before I address my concerns on the state of the game, I would like to encourage anyone who reads this letter to keep an open ear to HEAR the message, and an open heart to FEEL the message. The game of lacrosse has literally been the most important thing in my life for over half of my existence and I am nothing without the game. Through this sport, I have literally attained the thing I covet the most, my education; one through playing (Syracuse University), another through coaching (Queens University of Charlotte), and the other through exploring (Loughborough University in the United Kingdom). As a man who has accomplished so much in this game, it would be difficult to wonder why I am so incredibly disappointed in the game of lacrosse, but I am.”
In his opening, Miller makes an ask that people try to “feel” the message in his post instead of simply taking it at face value, and then immediately lays out the fact that lacrosse has given him so much in life, and how grateful he is that he had those opportunities. He even goes so far as to say that he understands why people might question his disappointment in the game.
If this doesn’t showcase the issue I first brought up (that race is a VERY touchy subject), then I don’t know what else does. Before he can even begin to talk about something that clearly tears at his heart, Miller felt compelled to explain how much he loves lacrosse and is thankful. I think that his inclusion of this caveat says a lot about this issue right there, and how hard it is to talk about it in general. In his opening paragraph, Miller seems to convey that he KNOWS that people will discount his opinion, or write him off as ungrateful.
Again, this says a lot about the issue of race, and how we talk about it.
Miller goes on to say that, in his experience, race is indeed a problem in lacrosse. He asks people if they have been part of the problem or the solution. He explains that people who do nothing, or discount the issue outright, can do more harm than good. He goes through some personal experiences, and how true diversity in lacrosse has been hard to come by. Miller doesn’t gloss over the good work that has been done, but does ask why more isn’t being done right now, and states that was has been done doesn’t go far enough. He wonders what the repercussions are for people who seem to oppose racial equality, and how that can be defined.
You might not agree with his message, or his method, or his examples, but Jovan Miller asks some hard questions, and it’s clear that he feels injured by our overall community’s lack of care.
For me, the latter is the thing that stands out the most, as it is what I can understand the best. That may sound selfish, and perhaps it is, but in the spirit of honesty, I’m not going to sugarcoat things. I can’t truly understand what it’s like to be Jovan Miller, or to be a black man in America, but I do understand what it feels like to be in pain, or to feel let down by your community. That’s a point we can likely all relate to.
I have spoken with Jovan Miller recently about his post, and many times before he wrote it. I have heard some of his stories, and I am thankful that he offered up a deeper understanding of his perspective to the general public. We do not always agree, or understand each other fully, but we talk openly, and I believe it helps both of us gain a better understanding of the world. While I can not possibly understand his perspective fully, as I’ve never walked in his shoes or experienced a day of his life, I am a human being, and I can feel empathy for someone when they are in legitimate pain. I believe Jovan Miller is in pain from his experiences, and that many of our other minority brothers and sisters in lacrosse may be in a similar situation.
I could easily focus on some of the specific issues or examples that Jovan Miller brought up in his post. I could nitpick and complain about how he did it, or what he said, but that would just further obfuscate the larger point, and the cycle of virulent disagreement based on misunderstanding would continue. Instead, I want to look past the HOW, and get to the WHY, at least for now. Miller told me he is in pain. He told ALL of us that he is in pain. Should we question how he told us this, or should we try to figure out why he is afflicted and try to help?
If Jovan Miller’s message rubbed you the wrong way, it’s important to ask yourself – WHY? What part of his pain made you feel so uncomfortable, or even angry? Why would his real pain give you pain? Why do you feel this way? Why is it so hard to listen to someone else’s perspective and simply reflect on it? Is there a way Miller could have written something where you would not be offended? While I don’t think Jovan Miller’s message was perfect, I do still think it’s very important that we listen, and try to feel what he is conveying, and THEN find a path forward.
I can not be some sort of arbiter on race issues. I do not want to be. I also can not dictate what is wrong, or what is right. No one man can, or should, do that.
Instead, it is up to us, as a community and society, to decide how we want to progress, or if we want to progress at all. We can continue to block our ears, and stay in our respective camps, or we can listen to another human being in pain. We can unblock our ears and hear the cries of suffering, and try to understand where someone else is coming from, even if we don’t agree or see things the same way. I won’t be perfect, and I won’t always understand. Neither will you. But I can listen, and keep my emotions and/or biases in check, and try to gain a new perspective. And so can you.
The issue of race will continue to be a hot topic in the US (and worldwide), and it’s not going to change overnight. BUT, if we can listen to each other, and actually talk about these different experiences, some progress can be made by everyone towards a better understanding of the dynamics at play.
Too often we look for the things we disagree with, or the things that can divide us. If we want to overcome these deep-rooted issues and feelings of distrust, we have to start somewhere. Taking a breath and actually listening seems like a good first step towards possible progress.
I don’t have a checklist for you to look over, or a simple and easy to solution to offer up. The issue of race won’t be solved quickly in lacrosse, or in the larger world, but the first steps toward healing are listening, conversing, and trying to understand other perspectives. I want to thank Jovan Miller for putting his perspective out there, and for asking me to share mine. None of this will “solve” the problem, but if it gets people talking about it in an open and honest way, then the opportunity to make progress exists. And that’s a start.
Miller asked me to respond to his post, but he also asked me to help in keeping the conversation going, so using the hashtag of #StickUp, I’m going to pass this perspective sharing experience on to Chris Rosenthal and Kyle Devitte at Inside Lacrosse. I encourage these two fine lacrosse writers to address the issue of race in lacrosse next, and then I hope they pass it on to someone else. The realest conversation yet can start now, if we only allow it.