Editor’s Note – If you want some additional insight into the lack of diversity in our game try doing a Google Search for images of “black lacrosse players” and see what comes up!
Diversity? That’s Rich!
What’s up, ladies and gents?
Last week I discussed talk versus action as it pertains to growing the game, and creating diversity in lacrosse. It stemmed from a conference call sponsored by US Lacrosse and Lacrosse Magazine. I believe that discussing diversity in lacrosse is almost cliché these days. Sure it’s better now than it was years ago (… ever heard that statement before?). It’s true. Between my 8th and 9th grade year, I went to a lacrosse camp at Princeton University. My friend and I were the only 2 Black players there. And while that still happens on (the not quite rare) occasion, it’s usually pretty easy to find 3 or 4 Black players at a camp or event. Whether you get the irony of that statement or not, the point is made.
There is more diversity in lacrosse than there ever has been. No question. No doubt. And while it’s true, it’s a little misleading. Kind of like this one. “Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the country!” I say it all the time when introducing the sport. It’s a great selling point. But if soccer, football, or baseball grew at the rate lacrosse was growing, we’d never even be able to secure field time for a lacrosse team. Unlike other sports, basic math allows lacrosse to grow that rapidly. I don’t have the numbers, so this is PURELY a guess … But as the number of participants has grown, I doubt that the number of minority participants has grown in the same fashion (percentage wise). I doubt that the number of non-minority low income participants has grown as drastically. The sport is growing leaps and bounds, but among the same racial and socio-economic groups. Truth is, I still get email after email from young Black players asking how I handled being the only one … because they are often still, the only one.
So as I continued to think about my frustrations with the call, I realized part two of my frustration. In some ways this is selfish, but not self serving. As I mentioned in the last blog, there’s often this sentiment of “wait till these basketball and football players start playing” which I also mentioned is more or less referring to the Black athletes. I say that because there are plenty of White football and basketball players that play lacrosse (or lacrosse players that play – and are very good at – football and basketball as well). So the ones that we are so patiently “waiting” on must be the Black/minority players.
To me, however, it doesn’t seem like anyone really wants these players to play. Don’t get me wrong, here. I don’t think there’s any conscious or subconscious systematic exclusion. But, for whatever reason, there’s no direct interest in getting these young men and women out to play. If there was, there’d be a plan in action to do so. There are great opportunities. For example, the BRIDGE programs, and the equipment grants, etc. from US Lacrosse. Those things make it significantly easier to get things accomplished. But interested parties have to go to them to do so. If US Lacrosse is the umbrella organization for all things lacrosse in the United States, why isn’t US lacrosse targeting certain specific areas, making the community connections, and then actually sending representatives out to build these programs?? Maybe I’m late. This could be going on. If not, the resources they are willing to provide are awesome. But it’s kind of like the mail man saying, “I’ve got your mail, but you’ve got to come get it.”
But it’s not all on US Lacrosse. Additionally, I wonder where the big players in the game are. Where are the Warriors, STXs, Mavericks, Nikes, New Balances, Under Armours? While they do not have quite the same pull as major companies do in football and basketball, they do shape the landscape of lacrosse by virtue of two things – the people that are at the top of their food chains, and their place as equipment manufacturers. Unlike other sports, the people at the top of the major equipment companies are some of the biggest names in the sport! The people that work at these companies are current big name and former (not too distant) big names in the sport. One would think that if they had a real interest in seeing the game evolve – beyond equipment innovation – they could play a very significant role in doing so.
It’s not just on these guys either. Some guys, companies are making BIG money on camps, clinics, tournaments. Nothing wrong with that. But now, why not take some of that money and invest it back into growing the game. Not just offering a “scholarship” to a player for your camp. You know as well as I do that, at some point, you’ve paid your expenses, you’ve made your bottom line profit, and any other kids that come to camp are bonus money. I get it. Again, nothing wrong with that either. But doesn’t anybody want to see the game truly grow? After all, the more people you have playing in your area, the fatter your pockets get down the road. It’s not everybody. Some people are making just what they need to. Some are really not making much at all on the camp scene. But there’s probably a good …. Ohhhh, I don’t know, 2% of camp/tournament/club and travel team owners/operators that could afford to help grow the game … Yikes, I’ll stop there …
But I digress. So as a Black player and enthusiast who has often been “the only one” and who wants to see the tremendously beneficial doors of lacrosse opened to more young Black men and women, I was slightly annoyed that there are so few efforts to really reach out to the Black community. **Sidenote. I’m focused here on the Black community, for obvious reasons. And that’s why I say this is selfish but not really self serving. On the flip side, however, somebody should be taking up the mantle to reach out to all of the non-traditional communities, be it socio-economic, race, or gender.** So that’s where my efforts lie. It’s not that I’m disinterested in young men and women that are not Black. From my experience, however, there’s not been enough interest taken in opening the doors to young Blacks. Fortunately, I’m in the position to help do, and simultaneously still give back to ALL young men and women that are interested in this wonderful game. I’ll leave you with part of an email I received this morning:
“For years I have had a belief that more of us don’t play because that’s the way they want it to be. Even when a player is a true lacrosse player they still label [him] as athlete. Why is it that the slow white attackmen is a lacrosse player with good lacrosse IQ and the Black counterpart is quick fast strong but no mention of lacrosse IQ?
I remember that was one of the main reasons I, as a players who started playing in the early 80’s at the age of 10, got tired of playing a sport that seemed to not really want to open the doors to others in fear of losing their grip. The nonprofit facades, the no standing members of the community included in organizations and the Rich white people throwing money around to make themselves feel like they did something good this week, month, year.”
Lacrosse is on its way to being a premier sport in this country, and possibly the world. But it’s not going to happen in the United States unless there’s a concerted effort to open the doors, AND formally invite people to the table. We cannot wait for people to come to lacrosse. We have to take lacrosse to the people.
That’s my word.