Discussion after racism at lacrosse game leads to 'incredible learning opportunity': history professor

A lacrosse game in Philadelphia last week highlighted some troubling issues in the sport, says Allan Downey, a history professor at McMaster University.

Allan Downey says the league and lacrosse enthusiasts should understand the Indigenous roots of the game

Jeremy Thompson's brother Lyle Thompson was the target of racist remarks at a lacrosse game last weekend. (Georgia Swarm)

A lacrosse game in Philadelphia last week highlighted some troubling issues in the sport, says Allan Downey, a history professor at McMaster University.

At a National Lacrosse League game in Philadelphia last week, the in-arena host said "let's snip the ponytail" of Georgia Swarm player Lyle Thompson, who is Indigenous, and some people in the crowd yelled about "scalping" him.

"It's really disheartening and disgusting to see," Downey said.

"Here we have in front of us this incredible athlete, this incredible person that does all of this work … to remind us where it comes from, and that's Indigenous communities, and that's all silenced very quickly with one statement."

A lacrosse game in Philadelphia this past weekend highlighted some troubling issues. Racism in sports, the appropriation of an indigenous game, and the lack of understanding of the significance of the game to indigenous people. Allan Downey is a history professor at McMaster University. 9:43

Downey is the author of the book The Creator's Game: Lacrosse, Identity and Indigenous Nationhood, which studies the history of the sport.

"There's this kind of appropriation of an Indigenous game and cutting it off from epistemology, Indigenous history, Indigenous languages, Indigenous ceremonies that it's been connected to from time immemorial."

He said education is key, but "the labour shouldn't be on Indigenous backs." He encourages lacrosse enthusiasts to take time to understand the history of the game and said the NLL and other lacrosse organizations need to do more as well.

"It's this incredible learning opportunity."

NLL takes responsibility

The in-arena host who made the comment has been fired.

"I can assure you he won't be doing any work for the Wings or the league in the future," said NLL commissioner Nick Saskiewicz.

"It's unfortunate, it's disgusting, there's no place for it anywhere, regardless of whether it's lacrosse or other sports, and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior."

A racist incident at a National Lacrosse League game in Philadephia last weekend continues to garner attention. The public address announcer for the Philadelphia Wings has been fired. During the game against the Georgia Swarm, Shawny Hill said "let's snip the ponytail" of Swarm player, Lyle Thompson, who is Indigenous. That led some people in the crowd to yell "scalp" him. Nick Saskiewicz is the N-L-L Commissioner. He says the league will continue to tackle racism. 10:12

Saskiewicz said the league has been making efforts to honour the history of the sport and that they will be doing even more in the future.

He said players and coaches receive media training and diversity training every year but that they're adding an Indigenous module into that training and will be requiring all front-facing team staff and broadcasters to take the training as well.

"That's just the start," he said. "We view this as a real opportunity to change, to discuss, to change that thinking, to educate, because obviously those people that participate in this stuff are not educated and it's our responsibility and our opportunity to educate them."

Jeremy Thompson says he thinks people are ignorant about lacrosse's Indigenous roots. (James Hopkin/CBC News)

'There is racism still out there'

Lyle Thompson's brother, Jeremy Thompson, plays for the Saskatchewan Rush.

Jeremy said fans were making comments even before the game started — he said Lyle heard them calling, "Cut his braid," while he was doing warm-ups.

"So obviously right from the get go, it was already there."

A lacrosse game in Philadelphia over the weekend turned ugly. The usual razzing and taunting turned racist. Georgia Swarm's Lyle Thompson was harassed by fans and even by the announcer over his braid. Braids are a family and cultural tradition for the four brothers who play lacrosse. Including Jeremy who plays for the Saskatchewan Rush. 7:39

After speaking to elders and family members, Thompson and his brother have decided to start an information campaign for players and fans of the league.

"Honestly, I think it's the ignorance of people and lack of knowledge," he said. "I think there is racism still out there, and it's sad to hear it."

About the Author

Ashleigh Mattern

Ashleigh Mattern is a web writer and reporter with CBC Saskatoon, CBC Saskatchewan, and CBC North; and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca

With files from Saskatoon Morning

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