Race in the Sport of Lacrosse

By Jessy Morgan, Head Coach, George Mason University, @GoMasonLax

I really dislike it when people make statements as if they represent an entire race of people. However, in this case there are so few of us, who’s going to stop me? And frankly the perspective needs to be discussed. I would first like to start off by saying race is a very sensitive subject, especially today. The opinions that I express are my own experiences that have given me a small glimpse inside the complex world of institutional racism and social biases. It makes me cringe to think that there are people that don’t believe that these things exist but they do. It’s even more surprising that if you had asked me in High School I would have also vehemently denied the claim. I was in a bubble, a quaint little community called McDonogh, a college prep school where on weekends I went to Bar Mitzvahs and ate curry at birthday parties. How was I to know that this welcoming and diverse community was a unique experience? At this point in my life I had no idea that the world saw race. I was truly blind to the inequalities faced by others in terms of color, sexuality and gender. I was just a young athlete having fun exploring my world through eyes that had never really been exposed to the harsh nature of adulthood.

Photo courtesy of George Mason Athletic Communications.
    Photo courtesy of George Mason Athletic Communications.

Fast forward to the University of Virginia. Not exactly “tobacco road” but southern enough for a young Baltimore woman. It was here I first heard the “N-word,” saw segregation, and felt different. I want to be sure to say that my lacrosse experience was amazing and I can’t thank my coaches and teammates enough for supporting me whether they realized my struggle or not. UVA is where I would constantly be in huge lecture halls and be the only brown face. In a dorm of hundreds of kids, I’m the only black woman I see and now I’m being asked about my hair. “Can I touch it; how long does it take to blow dry?” For the record, this is not cute or endearing. If you are intrigued by the kink or curl in a person of color’s hair, let’s all agree to figure out a better, less science experiment, way of doing it. I’m not the authority on this, but trust me it gets old.

So here is where I make my argument for diversifying the sport and to take a moment to give attention to these girls of color that are under our guidance as coaches. I’m not saying give anyone special treatment… I’m saying to be cognizant and respectful of what these athletes might be experiencing. It is our duty as coaches to nurture all young women to adulthood. Our goal should be to build confident, respectful mothers, sisters and wives. If you’re in this for anything different you should probably rethink your profession (seriously).

On to the real world I went… thinking I had it all figured out at the tender age of 22. Boy, was I wrong. Who would have thought that upon interviewing for coaching positions I would be told by the president of a university that there would be faculty members that would take issue with my appointment as head coach because of my race? I mean I just spent the last 4 years in the state of Virginia and had never heard anything so ridiculous. Who would have thought that an Athletic Director would question hiring me because I was a black coach in an elitist white sport? Who would have thought that there would be an entire online discussion about my race upon being named a new head coach? I have seen a lot during my career, I have felt the pressure of being the only brown face as far as the eye can see at a tournament, or being asked what sport I coach and watching the person’s jaw drop when I say lacrosse.

My job now is to work hard every day to change that. I must prove that a black woman from Baltimore can do this job and do it well. I must encourage other women of color to join the sport because frankly the sport needs the growth. I make sure that when I see a black athlete play that I correct coaches in describing them as just an athlete. “No, actually they’re a lacrosse player and a damn good one.”

The takeaway here is that I can’t do this alone. My hope is that other coaches are extending a hand to girls and young women of all colors to help expose them to this beautiful sport we love.

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7 thoughts on “Race in the Sport of Lacrosse

  1. My daughter played lax in high school in Baltimore. She was fortunate to play club level and travel to various tournaments throughout the region. I can echo the thought of being the only player of color in a vast sea of players in her age group. I was always pleased when I came across a family of color at a tournament. We would speak and I would encourage them to continue to support their daughter in the sport.
    My daughter ended up getting a scholarship to play at a DII school in the Midwest . Again, no other players of color. I think I saw one player of color her entire four years of being on the team.
    As a parent, I understood the hard work it took for her to achieve on the field while I handled the issues off the field. Many parents would make the comments and remarks about my daughter because the girls were all trying to get the attention of a college coach. Even in college, parents are wondering why my girl played over theirs. While the players are very supportive of each other, the parents are not.
    In my four years as a college lax dad, I had two families befriend me to share in the joy of watching our ladies play.
    Keep doing what you are doing.

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  2. Thank you for the article. While reading it I was overwhelmed with tears of and sadness, because of the negative experiences my daughter has endured. She too has been called deragtory names and has been ostracized by some of her high school teammates. Fortunately, with support from her family and her amazing elite lacrosse coach she did not leave the sport. She has been fortunately awarded an opportunity to play at the next level. I am aware that the journey has just begun, but she finds comfort in your words.

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  3. Loved this and so true.

    Growing up I was the only “spanish girl” that played lacrosse in the area. When I went on to play in college people were always surprised to hear that I played lacrosse and would always ask where I grew up. Being hispanic didn’t make me any less of a player. I was lucky enough to live in a town where playing girls lacrosse was an option.

    As the sport continues to grow I hope to see more diversity on the field.

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  4. I just find it hard to imagine being an athletic director and caring about the race or gender of my coach. As long as they’re a good coach, it just shouldn’t matter. It’s disheartening to hear that it does still matter to people. I cover a ton of lacrosse and I guess I’m lucky that I’ve never met a coach or general manager to whom a player’s race appeared to make any difference. It’s just not even a discussion that we ever have. We talk about a player’s athleticism, lacrosse IQ, floor vision, teamwork. Race never, ever comes up. I’m sorry to hear that Jessy’s prep school tolerance bubble was burst but I’m glad to hear that she is persevering.

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  5. The youth program on Long Island FLG “for the love of the game” has supported schools such as Roosevelt that had no funds for many sports programs. I know they supplied equipment and leadership to get the program going. I am guessing that it was 5 or 6 years ago. I dare say they are competing now and hopefully there will be more consideration for Lacrosse in other minority areas.

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  6. My son plays lacrosse and two other sports as well. He has been playing since the age of eight. He is an eighth grader now. This article was air to my lungs. Thank you for expressing what you have experienced. My wife and I feel like we are going crazy at times navigating through the ills of the lack of diversity. We’ve been to tournaments and have been the only player of color. We have witnessed all of these comments early it seems. My wife and I have fallen in love with the sport as my son introduced us to it. It has gotten better as the years have passed. There are a few more players of color. We often try to introduce more people to the sport. Please keep up the good fight. We all must play our part in pressing these matters forward. The parents can be a bit much at times but I look out on that field and see those boys being an example of what’s to come.

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