Did You See That?!: The Diversity Issue

Rick Stewart

A sharp opinion that deserves extra attention.

Do you read this site's fancy pants links post every day -- "Lacrosse the Internet"? You should; it's kind of the most important thing ever written on the Internet. There are all kinds of good stuff in that daily piece, and rather than watch it exist on the periphery, I'm going to make it even more important than it already is: Every day I'll pull out a story from the links post and expand a little upon it. It's called "Did You See That?!" and it'll happen as long as I remember to write it.

Link Post: June 20, 2013
Story: "Diversity efforts in lacrosse slow to pay off, but it's a start," Baltimore Sun

When The New York Times ran its story on diversity in Division I lacrosse on the day of the national semifinals, I wrote this about the fact that only 1.9 percent of the cohort's players are of African-American heritage:

Division I college lacrosse has a diversity concern, not necessarily a pervasive diversity problem. As the game continues to grow across the country -- not just at the highest collegiate level, but lacrosse as a whole (from youth to professional levels) -- lacrosse will start to look more and more like the nation in totem: A complex quilt of diverse backgrounds. In a crowded scene of athletic pursuits (is there a nation that is as athletically diverse as the United States?), the domestic iteration of lacrosse is slowly moving away from its East Coast, predominantly white history to a game that represents a wider swath of the American experience.

I still believe that: There is a difference between lacrosse's concerns and problems. The game is addressing the former with various programs designed to make lacrosse look more like the country itself; the latter requires the game to work in concert with society at large to erase hate. The fact that racism -- or any other form of discrimination (religious, sexual orientation, etc.) -- exists in lacrosse is more an illustration that racism still exists in America. This is a problem for lacrosse but only because it's a residue of the overarching problems that society in America experiences. The result is that the instances of discrimination at the micro (lacrosse) level are exponentially highlighted due to the somewhat muted -- but still present -- problems at the macro level.

Mike Preston, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun and a lacrosse aficionado, took pen to paper recently and provided some important thoughts on the Times' report. Preston's words are especially important in this context as he is an African-American:

"People kind of like to brush it under the table and say that kind of thing never happens or there's none of that in this sport," Woodson was quoted in the New York Times about the epithet. "But there is. It's still very much alive."

He is probably correct to some degree, but I don't think it's overwhelming. Nor do I believe there is a conspiracy to keep African-Americans from playing lacrosse. In fact, the only race stopping African-Americans from playing lacrosse are African-Americans.

It's not all about race, but more about exposure. As the sport continues to grow in the African-American community, so will the number of college players. It is basic math, but with a grass root problem.

As young children, African-Americans are more likely to play football or basketball than lacrosse because those sports are more prevalent in black neighborhoods and cheaper to play. Lacrosse is played year round which requires parents to invest in equipment as opposed to football which is played only in the fall and the equipment is provided by most recreation programs and high schools.

* * * * *

Fortunately, more African-Americans are starting to play at a younger age, but it's a long process before they can develop that skill set to play college lacrosse. Compared to 20 years ago, it is still a major improvement with the success of players like Sam Bradman, Rhamel and Shamel Bratton, Maxx Davis, Woodson and Kyle Harrison.

Regardless of the time or year, there is always going to be some sort of racism. Two years ago, one of my former players was called the n-word by a New Jersey player, and told that his "kind shouldn't be playing lacrosse."

That's essentially what lacrosse is dealing with: It's growing and trying to figure itself out; the pieces are there, but time is the ultimate factor. There are still unfortunate aspects to the game's growth, but it's less tied to the game and more tied to parts of society living a backwards existence. Preston gets it, and more importantly, he's taking a hands-on approach to making the changes lacrosse needs to see.

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