What It Is Like Being a Black Lacrosse Player
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
I started playing club lacrosse when I was nine years old. I am a Black, female lacrosse player. Black lacrosse player. Those are words that you do not see paired together often. When people ask me why I play lacrosse, I usually just say that lacrosse is a space where I can clear my head. A space where nothing else matters. I wish it were that simple.
Every now and then when I am out in public, someone asks me if I play sports. Of course my answer is yes. They usually follow with the, “Let me guess....basketball?” Unashamed, I always come back with, “No actually, I play lacrosse.” Lacrosse? Immediately their expressions change. They never say it, but I know exactly what they are thinking: “You don’t look like a lacrosse player.”
Not looking like a lacrosse player is a thought that was engraved into my head for a long time. What exactly is a lacrosse player supposed to look like? When I google “girl lacrosse player,” one out of the first 10 pictures are of a Black lacrosse player. Ten percent, that’s not bad. Now try one out of the first one hundred pictures. That is one percent. And that is just where I stopped counting. So, to a young Black and impressionable girl thinking about starting lacrosse, what exactly does a lacrosse player look like? Not her.
Being “the Black girl” carries a lot of weight. Even at the young age of 11 years old, I recognized that for most of the people on my team, their interactions with me were the only ones they had with a Black person. In my mind, this meant that how they saw me was how they saw Black people as a whole. For the record, I was wrong. However, that did not stop my mindset from putting me in a box. I was less outgoing with them than I usually was with other people.
After being singled out and asked multiple times by a parent if I wanted watermelon (that was on the table with the rest of the snacks), I stopped eating watermelon at tournaments, because I did not want to feed into such stereotypes. I learned to recognize which referees I had to play less aggressively with, so that I would not give away too many advantages or get kicked out of the game. I learned to laugh when they called me by the other Black girl’s name because we “looked so much alike.” But I noticed how they never got anyone else confused with another player. I learned to ignore the curious hands in my hair that treated me like a zoo animal.
When my mom didn't let me run in the hotels, when everybody else was allowed to, I thought she was being unfair, but eventually, I realized there were ways the white players could act in public that I, a Black person, could not. The number of microaggressions I have endured, and continue to endure, are more than I can remember, or name in a simple article.
Despite all of that, for the first few years, I attributed my feelings of being an outsider to my not being good enough at lacrosse. Maybe it was my not wanting to believe that the stories of racism I had heard from my parents and grandparents could still play out today, or maybe it was my wanting to tie it to something I could control and make my fault.
It got to a point where I was almost ready to give up on the sport. What was the use in putting in the extra work? I had coaches who made me feel bad about myself. I did not feel like I had any real friends on the team. I ultimately had no confidence. It was just not fun anymore. There was a period when I cried on the way to practices begging my mother not to make me go.
Finally, when I needed it most, I got a new coach who built me up. It was then that I truly found my love for the sport and realized why I could not quit.
When I watch the US Women’s National Lacrosse team play, I notice that there is not a single player who looks like me. Over the years, I have watched players like Brooke Griffin, Taylor Cummings, and Caroline Steele play college ball. All great players, but still, they do not look like me. Not enough women of color play lacrosse. As one of few Black lacrosse players, I do not have the privilege of just playing for myself. I play lacrosse not only because I love the sport, but because there are a lot of young Black girls that deserve the chance to be able to love the sport as well.