Sports

Daily Beast: Native lacrosse players encounter racism on field






The Iroquois Nationals before their game against Canada on July 13. Photo from Iroquois Nationals

Lacrosse stars from the Onondaga Nation of New York say racism from fellow players and fans is common:
The Iroquois, who for decades primarily played an indoor lacrosse variant, were not invited to the first World Field Lacrosse Championships in 1968. The Heisman Trophy of college lacrosse pays homage to a Native word for lacrosse, tewaaraton, but not until this year was it awarded to a Native. Yet even in the story of co-Tewaaraton Award winners Lyle and Miles Thompson, we still hear echoes of the same racist attitudes which strangled opportunity for previous generations.

The brothers, who last season set numerous scoring and assist records at the University of Albany, wear a traditional Iroquois hairstyle of shaved head and long braid in the back. The look has made them targets of verbal abuse. “We get a lot of racist remarks on the lacrosse field, not only by the fans but by the players too,” Miles Thompson told ESPN. “They want to make fun of us by the long hair that we have.” Their cousin Ty Thompson, a teammate at Albany and the national team, continued: “It’s ‘Pocahontas,’ or ‘wagon-burners.’ It’s a bunch of stuff like that.”

This racist trash talk reflects widespread ignorance about Native history, even among Americans and Canadians who attend elite East Coast universities. But the more the Iroquois nationals win, the more their history and culture will be shared for the first time with mainstream sports fans. “The Nationals are showing the world that we are on the map,” stickmaker Alf Jacques told Sports Illustrated in 2010. “When you say Indians, Native Americans, what pops into mind? Out West, in a tepee, on a reservation, alcohol, drug abuse, drain on society, poverty, uneducated—beaten down. How many negatives can they put on this group of people?”

If for nothing else, lacrosse matters because it reminds us the Iroquois still exist. Consider that their flag—which represents the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy—was first designed so that the lacrosse team could have something to wave at the world games.

Get the Story:
Evin Demirel: A Millennium After Inventing the Game, the Iroquois Are Lacrosse’s New Superpower (The Daily Beast 7/21)

Related Stories:
CPR: Iroquois Nationals compete in world lacrosse tournament (7/16)
Onondaga Nation brothers share highest college lacrosse honor (05/30)