Black Lives Matter – Leadership & Representation
By Tari Kandemiri | Aug 4, 2020
Leader. Trailblazer. Trendsetter. These are just a few of the words used by many to describe Redwoods lacrosse player Kyle Harrison. It is safe to say we all know Kyle through his lacrosse accolades. From playing at the Friends School of Baltimore to winning a National Championship and a Tewaaraton Award during his time at Johns Hopkins University, he has continuously been one of the biggest names in lacrosse both on the field and within the community. Recently, Kyle shared that he had received a text from a player where they detailed a racist incident they encountered during a tournament. The player was taunted with statements like “go back to Africa” and “go back to Wakanda,” and sadly this was not the first time an incident like this had occurred. There had been many moments in the past where someone reached out to Kyle for guidance in the face of adversity. And like he has done before, Kyle took it upon himself to help this player in any way he could and share their story.
Understanding that his career has spanned over a decade, I was curious about the ways in which Kyle managed to forge his path in the sport while also speaking up for others who are marginalized. What does it feel like to be the person everyone turns to when something “bad” happens? Though this de facto position is one that may have been thrust upon him due to his spotlight, Kyle has embraced it. He has concluded that elevating and amplifying the stories shared with him allows for these issues to be put in the forefront; thus, our sport cannot simply ignore the issues or brush them under the rug. By taking pride in his platform, Kyle has been able to embrace it and use it as an opportunity to be an advocate for others. And though it took time for him to embrace this “leadership position,” he now also has the tools to inspire other players seeking to find their own ways of sharing their thoughts. For anyone looking to speak up or speak out, he reiterates that it can take time to find your medium and voice. Whether it be sharing your thoughts on social media platforms or through written word, “there’s no right way to do it, just being willing to do it is the right stuff.” All of the PLL’s Black players have had their spotlights amplified during this time, each with their own journey to identifying how best to share their perspectives. Redwoods attackman Jules Heningburg found his voice organically, finding himself in a leadership position as a Captain shortly after transferring to Seton Hall Prep. Though he was the only Black player on his team, he found a way to bring his teammates together and create opportunities for open dialogue on tough conversations, an opportunity which those teammates thank him for today. For Jules, using his platform to speak up on tough issues is something he has been doing consistently, finding it important to push the conversations forward.
On May 25, 2020, a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. George, a Black man who had been accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis, died on the scene. His death, and a culmination of emotions from prior incidents of racial profiling across the United States, led to widespread protests. For Black people across the country and around the world, this news did not feel new. It felt like a replay of the harrowing moments we had seen countless times before. The death of George Floyd struck a chord with the Black players of the Premier Lacrosse League, and they quickly decided they wanted to do something to honor Floyd as well as the countless other Black people who have lost their lives. It did not feel right to step onto the field and continue with business as usual, ignoring the reality that surrounded them as Black men. During a series of calls, the players garnered inspiration from leagues such as the National Basketball Association and decided to wear patches to show their support. Together, they formed the Black Lacrosse Alliance, a group of Black PLL players committed to being a beacon of hope and change. With Mike and Paul Rabil, the PLL Diversity & Inclusion Board, and team captains on board, they set a plan in motion.
Open dialogue and discussions led to the optionality of wearing items such as jersey patches, leg sleeves, and helmet stickers for players to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, in a similar fashion to statement pieces worn for other social causes such as supporting Law Enforcement. A majority of players took it upon themselves to show their support, a statement that meant a lot to fans and spectators watching the games. To them, “Black Lives Matter” meant simply that. That their teammates, family members, friends, and the world at large, matter. “You can get deeper if you want to, but on the surface that is what it’s about.” Archers midfield Dominique Alexander shared his perspective on Instagram, encouraging others to seek the true meaning of the words Black Lives Matter and engage in the difficult conversations necessary to make a change.
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Read the words on the shirt. Understand that to ME the words on the shirt mean a lot. If you down with the MOVEMENT, continue to educate yourself and continue to have the uncomfortable conversations. Also know that ACTIONS are needed to make true change. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses... ⠀ I don’t want to hear anything about Marxism, Facism, or any other “-isms”. Don’t bring that here and kick rocks. ⠀ Big ups to @emmadamz for the handwriting help! #bethechange #blacklivesmatter
For Dominique, speaking about his life and experiences is not difficult but he has found confidence in connecting with other players across the league. Having others who he can share his experiences with and organize for tangible efforts allows for organization, and in turn change. To him, the Black Lacrosse Alliance has an opportunity to be a platform that can amplify voices and really help lacrosse move forward to become a more inclusive and safe space for minority players.
For Black lacrosse fans, seeing PLL athletes use their platforms to speak out on racial injustices means a lot. In a recent piece I wrote for Inside Lacrosse Magazine, I spoke of the difficulties of not having much representation of Black players in the game. Additionally, I spoke on my podcast of the struggles of being a Black woman in America and the difficulties of being both invisible and hypervisible at the same time. Sharing my perspective on the death of Breonna Taylor, whose hashtag trends daily, and recounting racist incidents I have faced proved to be a painful experience for me as I had not publicly shown just how much it had all affected me. Seeing players I respect make a statement and stand in solidarity with Black people in the United States means a lot to me. It means that even though I have faced racism and prejudice, I am not alone. What started as an idea amongst Black players in the PLL quickly became a strong statement with a wide-reaching impact. Seeing your favorite player with a patch gave you the opportunity to give a sigh of relief - a moment of acknowledgment. The patches, shirts, and other statement pieces were not something small for many of us who were watching. These statements showed us that we had allies and were welcomed by many within the lacrosse community, a place where at times being a minority felt like a shortcoming.
There is still work to be done in the game, but the PLL has put plans into motion. Within the community, the PLL is actively working to make an impact. On June 10th, they announced 5 actionable steps they are taking to show their support for Black Lives Matter. They are also actively working with growth partners such as Bridge Lacrosse and Owls Lacrosse to help children in underserved areas. The PLL has raised over $12,000 during the Championship Series, which will go directly to the growth partners. They are actively assessing their hiring process to ensure it allows for candidates of all backgrounds to apply, and creating internship opportunities for Black students to get more exposure to working within professional sports and potentially work their way up in the company. A speaker series has provided opportunities for Black speakers to share their stories with the league, allowing for even more open dialogue. Especially during a pandemic such as what we are going through, these actionable steps and strides have already made a big impact and Harrison believes these strides will continue. On August 1st, the PLL took time to honor the Indigenous Peoples of North America through a land honoring ceremony, another example of the inclusivity and respect the league has for the sport and its players. The newly formed Black Lacrosse Alliance will continue working to amplify Black voices within the game and work towards facilitating this tangible change. In conjunction with the work of other Black leaders, players, coaches, and parents within lacrosse, change is coming. Black Lives Matter.