November 19, 2021

Racial Equity in Sports and Its Importance

There are many controversial issues that face almost every sport that is played. In terms of gender, race, nationality, sexuality, and the many other factors that make humans unique, there are inequities that separate people within the world of sport. One of the biggest controversies in sport is the lack of diversity. There are many sports where one group almost monopolizes a sport and there are unfair and unequal opportunities for participation. The future of sport must include fair opportunity for anyone who wants to participate to be able to do so. Because of this issue, many initiatives are being taken to ensure an increase in diversity. 

Lacrosse is perhaps one of the sports that has the largest dominance by a single demographic. Lacrosse is a predominantly white sport. Data from the NCAA in 2019 shows that 84% of female college lacrosse players identified as white and 85.5% of male college lacrosse players identified as white. Not only do the statistics show the lack of diversity in lacrosse, but human interaction on and off the field can show the stereotypes that most people have when they think about lacrosse. Gina Oliver Thomas, who retired in 2013, was the last black women’s player to compete on the US Women’s National team. She expressed to US Lacrosse Magazine, “I had my black friends and family that were like, You’re white. You play a white sport and you act white. Then, you have the other side of it, where you’re around a lot of white people that don’t understand Black culture, so you’re defending that and educating them.”

There are many reasons why lacrosse has such a lack of diversity compared to other sports. However, the largest reason why the upper-white middle class demographic makes up for the largest portion of lacrosse participants is because of the cost to play. Anyone who wants to pursue their dream of playing their favorite sport competitively as they grow older, usually has to start at a young age. This is true for every sport, as most professional athletes have been playing their respective sport for as long as they can remember. Lacrosse is no different. However, what does make lacrosse different in that aspect is that it is way more expensive to maintain than most other sports. For example, it does not cost much to play basketball. For basketball, as long as you have a pair of supportive sneakers and a basketball, you are good to go. However with lacrosse, there are a lot more costs. The first one of these costs is the cost of equipment. Because there are so little lacrosse equipment manufacturers, the companies that do make the equipment can set their own price. On average, a lacrosse head costs between $50-120, a lacrosse shaft costs between $50-200, and a lacrosse helmet costs $300. All of the other equipment needs to be purchased as well makes the entire equipment costs well over $1000. Additionally, because lacrosse is such a white dominated sport, fees to play on club and travel teams for the youth can be very expensive.

Because of the cost of play, it is extremely difficult for kids who grow up without the privilege of having wealth, to maintain playing lacrosse for a long period of time. Because of this, kids who grow up without the privilege must look elsewhere for athletics. Sports like football and basketball are a lot more affordable in this aspect, while lacrosse as well as sports like hockey are continuously dominated by white people in terms of participation.

There is a whole other side to the equation as well. If you are a true lacrosse historian, then you would know that the sport was created by Native Americans. They used it as an activity to stay in shape as well as prepare for battles. However, like explained before, because of all of the factors the sport has gotten away from the great culture who has created it. Because of this, many initiatives are being put in place to not only honor these cultures, but also try to close the gap in participation. The PLL (Premier Lacrosse League) and the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse announced a partnership in January of 2021. The partnership will encompass four pillars: mentorship, cultural awareness training, events, and brand. The goal of the partnership is to raise global awareness towards the roots of lacrosse while sustaining a more collaborative relationship between Native communities and the league. There will be youth mentoring opportunities for PLL athletes and Native Youth, as well as a cultural awareness training program provided by Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse that will be implemented at the league level. This unique partnership between the PLL and Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse will benefit the game of lacrosse worldwide by bringing the origins of the sport to the forefront, while providing education and support for all involved.

Also, this summer, PLL players wore orange helmet straps in support of indigenous communities. The PLL announced this initiative to raise awareness and drive education around the multiple, tragic discoveries of unmarked graves at the site of former indigenous residential and boarding schools. Cannons LC attackman Lyle Thompson said, “Every child matters and we need to honor all of the indigenous children that never returned home from residential and boarding schools' '. The PLL partnered with Every Child Matters to make sure that this would be a healing journey for Native survivors through a commitment by all to recognize these historical injustices.

With all of the problems that are facing lacrosse in terms of diversity, there is an increase of awareness regarding those issues. With teamwork from major leagues involved as well as the NCAA, the message of inclusion as well as respecting the roots of the sport is important and needs to be distributed. There are no simple solutions to equalizing lacrosse, however with a sport so great and so impactful, there needs to be a way to make sure that anyone who wants the chance to pursue this sport, has a pathway to be able to do so.

Sources

  1. https://premierlacrosseleague.com/articles/premier-lacrosse-league-and-iroquois-nationals-lacrosse-announce-partnership
  2. https://laxweekly.com/lacrosse-expensive/
  3. https://thesewaneepurple.org/2021/03/26/a-white-sport-lacrosse-cultures-racial-fragility/
  4. https://premierlacrosseleague.com/articles/premier-lacrosse-league-players-to-wear-orange-helmet-straps-in-support-of-the-indigenous-communities

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