One of our goals for the Premier Lacrosse League is not just to modernize lacrosse, but to shape the future of professional sports. Part of that is how we package the league: a touring model, intense social media engagement and innovations like on-the-field interviews with players during the game.
But a big part of it is off the field. We want to build a league that is socially conscious and morally responsible. One that celebrates our players and fans, but also attracts new fans and players. To do that, it means we need to build a future that is committed to equality, encourages inclusion and celebrates the diverse voices and experiences of our employees, athletes and fans.
That’s why I’m proud to lead diversity and inclusion efforts at the PLL.
For those of us building the league, there was no question that diversity was going to be a part of what we built. As a black athlete playing the sport, I’ve often spoke on the importance of diversity and inclusion. Paul Rabil, the league’s co-founder, has established himself as a LGBTQ ally and feminist. So to us, diversity and inclusion isn’t some sort of PR talking point, but what we believe makes us all stronger. We knew it needed to be part of the fabric of the PLL.
The question was how.
Soon after forming the league, we sat down to discuss our approach to diversity and inclusion. We talked about the issues facing lacrosse. We connected with folks at the NBA, NFL, WNBA and NHL to understand what other organizations do. And we looked at the many potential partnerships we could engage in our efforts.
We realized that a lot of times teams and people can be non-inclusive not out of malice, but because of a lack of knowledge. And we realized that when people do encounter malice or uncomfortable situations, they often don’t know how to manage them. That’s why for the first year of the PLL we are focusing on education and empowerment. We will educate people about why inclusion is important and what the experiences of marginalized groups are like. And we will empower athletes and fans with how to create a more welcoming environment and how to be an ally to others.
We started living it before the season even started. All PLL players were required to take a cultural competency course. The course, developed by US Lacrosse, educates coaches, parents and athletes about how to be more inclusive and the impact that can have on teams and athletes. It covers things like bias, microaggressions, social class and how to build inclusive leadership.
No PLL athlete could step onto the field at training camp until they took that online course. The course has enabled us to have a better understanding on how to be more inclusive. I encourage coaches and players at all levels to take it and apply the knowledge to your teams and communities. (Check it out here).
We are also forging partnerships that will help support traditionally marginalized communities and create a more welcome environment in lacrosse.
We’re working with Nation United on a mentorship program. Nation United is an organization that is composed of diverse, elite-level club teams. Often these players don’t get the opportunity to play with people that look like them, so we are rolling out a mentorship program between our athletes and the Nation United athletes, including discussions on what it is like to be a minority lacrosse player and how to keep people engaged and feeling included.
The other week we announced our partnership with You Can Play, an organization that fosters equality and respect in sports without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Going into this, I didn’t have an in-depth understanding of the LGBTQ community and some of the issues they face. But already in our young relationship with You Can Play I’ve learned so much. And based on what I’ve learned, I can’t imagine the feelings of loneliness and exclusion some LGBTQ athletes face. We just launched our Pride shirt (proceeds go to You Can Play) and are working with them on bringing education to PLL athletes. We will also host a pride night in one city (TBD) where players will wear Adidas pride shooting shirts and we will partner with local LGBTQ community organizations.
We also want to bring more awareness to Native American issues and the people and communities behind the origins of lacrosse. We are working with Jeremy Thompson to educate the lacrosse community (and those outside of lacrosse) on how important the Native American community is to the sport.
And that’s just the start. We have other partnerships in the works we will be rolling out in the coming months.
For us, the important thing is that our efforts are ongoing and impactful. Too often conversations occur after a specific event where the lacrosse community talks for a bit and then moves on. Our education and empowerment will be an ongoing dialogue. All year long you will see our players regularly talking about creating a more inclusive lacrosse environment.
Again, for us, it’s a personal mission as well as a professional one. From a personal standpoint, I’ve been the one of the only black or brown pairs of legs on multiple fields from the time I was four or five and started playing Baltimore, straight through Team USA. So, I know what that feels like. And I want to make sure that every minority player, or every player that has any sort of difference, feels comfortable and included.
And from the PLL perspective, it’s our duty. We are the leaders in this sport and we want to be at the forefront of growing the sport and impacting change. We need to be the change we want to see.
Every time I look on Twitter I see people talking about growing the game and taking lacrosse to the next level. They are asking how we get more mainstream. Well it starts here. We need to create a more inclusive sport, one that welcomes and embraces different races, cultures, national origins, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions and abilities.
If we can do that, not only will be grow into the sport of the future, but we can create a better future for those on and off the field.