Here we are celebrating Black History Month, which naturally gets us to thinking about diversity in sports. Not the biggies like baseball, basketball and football, but the myriad lesser-known (at least in some circles) sports. Take lacrosse, for example.
Here’s a sport that is as American as, well, baseball. Only more so, since it was invented by Native Americans. Yet somehow over the years lacrosse became one of those elite sports played almost exclusively by white folks. Men, mostly.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in lacrosse at all levels, for both girls and boys. You can see that simply by checking out the number of lacrosse uniform options available in our SquadLocker All Season 2021 Uniform Catalog.
So, if lacrosse is growing as a sport, does that mean it’s also diversifying?
We hope so. It turns out there has been a great of effort directed at developing lacrosse into a more inclusive sport, for players as well as coaches.
Ten years ago, ESPN wrote about how the illustrious football pro and TV announcer Jim Brown also played lacrosse in college, at Syracuse University. Evidently he was darn good, too. This was in the 50s, mind you, when diversity was scant in most college and professional sports.
ESPN noted that it took another 50 years until Kyle Harrison became the next widely-recognized Black lacrosse player. After his career at Johns Hopkins (he graduated in 2005), Harrison went on to play Major League Lacrosse and became a four-time All-Star.
What’s been happening with lacrosse diversity since then?
Tina Sloan Green was president of the Black Women in Sport Foundation back in 2011. She explained that one reason lacrosse wasn’t common in inner cities was the lack of space – kids could play pick-up in a pinch, but certainly there no large open spaces for real games. Despite the lack of space, she suggested that lacrosse would attract a lot more attention from Black kids if the sport had big-name Black players such as soccer’s Pele or Venus and Serena Williams of tennis fame.
But how to get kids to grow up as lacrosse players so they might become college players and then, perhaps pros?
US Lacrosse launched a program in 2003 to expose more kids in underserved communities to the sport, but a few years later they determined that there still wasn’t enough coaching and mentoring to make significant inroads. Little kids were getting interested, but since so many of them didn’t see college in their future, lacrosse was just a passing thing.
In 2005, an organization called CityLax was formed in New York City, specifically to keep young lacrosse players involved in the sport as they transitioned from middle to high school, with an ultimate goal of then getting them to see lacrosse as a pathway to college.
Still, by the 2009-2010 season, the NCAA reported less than 10% of lacrosse players were Black.
Fast-forward 10 years
Richard Carrington is men’s head lacrosse coach at Tesculum University in Greeneville, TN. Richard Carrington is also Black. There are just 12 other Black men’s lacrosse head coaches in the NCAA. Carrington believes there are three steps that must be taken to further diversity his sport:
- Reducing the cost of equipment, which can add up quickly and keep low income kids from ever joining a team. “The first company to create a starter kit that is $30 to $50 will be ahead of the game,” he hints.
- Restructuring the game, again because of high costs. The current system requires athletes who want to move up in the sport to attend tryouts and to join a summer team, so there is a cash outlay involved plus the player has to choose between summer play and essential summer work.
- Openly recruiting for coaching diversity at the college level. Carrington cites two issues here. One is the fact that too many coaches land positions through networking instead of colleges actively advertising open positions. The other? “I never had anyone pull me aside and tell me that I had it in me to be a coach,” says Carrington. “I had to work and figure things out on my own, pretty much.”
As the formal representative of the sport, US Lacrosse has also revved up its efforts to boost diversity. They believe “that broad representation and participation add significant value to the lacrosse experience of each of us, and that these valued experiences are enhanced by embracing underrepresented and underserved communities.”
Toward that end, they sponsor:
- Urban Lacrosse Alliance, which supports self-sustaining youth lacrosse programs in underserved areas
- Adaptive Lacrosse, which enables athletes with mental or physical impairments to play a modified version of the game
- Diversity & Inclusion National Grant Program, which helps fund organizations doing things to promote lacrosse education and participation
Clearly, diversity in lacrosse is still a work in progress
Here at SquadLocker, we noticed the similarities between efforts to diversity lacrosse and squash, another sport commonly associated with white players at exclusive universities. SquadLocker CEO Gary Goldberg recently talked with Greg Zaf, Founder of SquashBusters. You can listen to the entire podcast here.
Greg made a lot of excellent points. His organization works to “take squash out of the ivory tower” and bring it directly to inner city kids. Everybody benefits, he says. Certain top-quality colleges are looking to diversify their student populations as well as attract players to their squash programs. SquashBusters teaches kids to play squash, but that’s just the beginning.
“We open up doors of opportunity for kids in a variety of ways. Educationally, athletically, socially, places they travel, broadening the world that they see, community service, connecting them to other people in need, opening up their hearts. We create a theory of change by teaching them about themselves and their own capacity to grow and struggle and succeed and to dream.”
Success comes from “the relationships and the mentoring and the sense of family and human connection that the program creates.”
A SquadLocker store makes it easier for all to participate
So, lacrosse aficionados, did you catch our SquadLocker team at LaxCon last month? We exhibited virtually, as is the norm these days. If we didn’t connect, give us a call or drop us an email. One of the easiest ways to simplify and reduce the cost of getting teams outfitted is by opening an online store:
- All the uniforms, gear, and spirit wear teams and fans need, all in one place
- Available 24/7
- Orders shipped quickly and delivered directly to the buyer
And everything custom-decorated, of course. Because while diversity is a must for players and staff, teams need a cohesive culture and a cohesive look on the field that reflects that culture.
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