As you likely know, the Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse team is in the news right now, and not because they’ve won nine of their last 10 games and are flying up the polls.
After last weekend’s win at Elon, the Hokie players were excited and screaming and singing songs on the bus ride home, all normal things from a college women’s lacrosse team after a big win. It was the singing part where things got a bit out of control.
“They had just won. They’re singing songs. The first couple songs were Disney songs,” head coach John Sung said, according to a story by the Roanoke Times.
But then they sang Lil Dicky’s “Freaky Friday,” (the verse is sung by Chris Brown) which includes the n-word in the lyrics. That was the first mistake. The situation was escalated when one of the players took a Snapchat video of them singing along, then it was uploaded on YouTube and tweeted out.
(This video is NSFW.)
The video has since gone viral, and has been covered by Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, CBS News and dozens of other outlets. A mistake was made, and these players are paying for it.
Let’s unpack this one thing at a time.
If you’re not black, just don’t say the word. Don’t say it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re with people of color, if you’re with other people, or if you’re alone. It doesn’t matter if it ends with the hard “er” ending or with the colloquial “a” ending. Don’t say the n-word. That’s my advice.
It’s a racist slur that, over a period of centuries, was used to dehumanize people of African ethnicity. The n-word helped perpetuate hierarchical, institutional power imbalances that exploited black people.
Historically in the U.S., the word was part of a system that included slave trade, slave labor, segregation and continued discrimination today. Even saying it casually, as the Virginia Tech players did as part of the song lyrics, indicates that you are willing to associate yourself with the slur’s history.
“There was no malice involved,” Sung said in the Roanoke Times story. To an extent, that’s true. These women aren’t bad people. They weren’t overtly racist, and certainly didn’t target the slur toward anyone; they simply were singing a song.
They probably didn’t think anything of it, but that’s the problem. It was easy to say. But just as easy as it is to say such a thing, it is just as easy to not say it.
If you don’t say the n-word, you’re not going to have controversy, you’re not going to offend anybody, and most importantly, you’re not going to implicitly subscribe to a culture of systemic oppression.
Don’t say the n-word.
Social media is really powerful.
Here’s the second lesson. If you’re going to say the n-word (and again... don’t say the n-word), please, for the love of God, don’t put it on your Snapchat.
Fair or unfair, student-athletes represent their university. Student-athletes are public figures and are scrutinized in a way that other students are not.
Social media is a wonderful tool for athletes to promote their success and to engage with fans or youth players that look up to them, but it has to be used responsibly. The Virginia Tech n-word fiasco is not an isolated incident. Players make mistakes with social media all the time. Especially on Twitter, which is a public forum, compared with Facebook and Snapchat, which generally are not, players have to ask two questions: (1) How does this post reflect on me; and (2) How does this post reflect on my team and university? If it can invite controversy, steer clear. Twitter moves fast, and sometimes momentarily lapses of judgment cannot be undone.
Here’s a tweet from Stony Brook head coach Joe Spallina from Tuesday morning (presumably in response to the Virginia Tech situation) that I wholeheartedly agree with.
STRONGLY believe ALL colleges should have a mandatory 1-3 credit course educating student athletes on the effects of Social media-Pros and cons IT’s a moving resume !! Knowledge is power!!— Joe Spallina (@JoeSpallina) March 27, 2018
In lacrosse, we must go above and beyond to promote inclusivity
It’s no secret that lacrosse is mostly played by white kids. On the Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse roster, there isn’t a single player of color. According to a New York Times article in 2013, just 1.9 percent of Division-I lacrosse athletes at the time were black. It has gone up from there, but not by much.
Young African Americans don’t get involved with the sport because there aren’t very many other players that look like them. There are socioeconomic factors as well. Lacrosse equipment and camps are expensive and the sport mostly attracts wealthy white suburbanites in places like Maryland, Long Island and New Jersey.
For lacrosse to continue to grow, it needs to become more diverse. It is great that there are prominent non-white stars like Trevor Baptiste and Tehoka Nanticoke, and efforts have been made to bring the sport into non-traditional lacrosse communities and into urban areas.
But when a video of Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse players singing the n-word at the tops of their lungs goes viral, it hurts that effort and alienates the black community, who already may not feel welcome in a sport that is almost totally white.
So were these players maliciously racist? No, but they were really stupid, and actions have consequences. If used properly, the Virginia Tech situation can be used as a case study for college athletes across the country to be more cognizant of the things they say and the way they use social media.