In case you’ve been living under a rock, or just not on Twitter, a video surfaced this weekend of the Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse team singing along to a song that included the n-word.
My celebratory haze of Stanford beating USC had come to an unfortunate end as I was immediately struck by sadness upon seeing this video. Yet again, here we are, in the same position we were a month or so ago when a similar situation occurred.
We talk about solutions, like helping more organizations grow the game, so that the game starts to resemble what our world looks like, but is that really the problem here though? I believe that’s a piece of the puzzle.
From my experiences, I feel like there’s another problem we need to address in the lacrosse community, and possibly in our society in general, and that’s race communication itself. How do we talk about race? How do you talk about race if you are a white coach? What is our role as coaches in the solution to this problem? I think it gets hard, and we avoid it or beat around the bush. I think part of the reason that sadly this happened, is that these girls genuinely didn’t think it was wrong. I don’t think anyone thinks they had ill intent, but the fact that they did it, without thinking about it, and had no idea it was wrong is the problem.
Personally, I can admit and own that when I was in high school, I never thought about race as it related to my life or my world, this is part of my privilege. I never had to have hard conversations with people of color, because honestly, I simply wasn’t around many. My town, although changed, and still changing, was mostly white, all of my friends were white, and all my teammates were white. Race was not something we discussed.
When I was in high school, I’m 90% sure I sang along when that word was said in songs because I thought just like those that don’t understand the magnitude of that word are saying now, it’s just a song. I thought all those same things, like if someone else is saying it, then it’s okay. If my friends do it, then it’s okay. It must not be that bad if they don’t bleep it out, and so on. By many standards, I was a good kid, let’s be honest, I was a great kid. I did every single thing right, I went to school, got good grades, worked hard, listened to my parents. But this was and is wrong. I went to college, took classes about so many topics, with students from so many backgrounds and my world was changed.
I know many think that the girls weren’t smart putting it on social media, but that is the not the main lesson to be learned here. Although, still a good one to know, that FYI Snapchat isn’t private. The problem is, how many bus rides do you think this happens on and it's not recorded?
You see, this word is not just a word. There is no freedom of speech with this word for white people because it was never our word to use. You see, this word was used to degrade an entire community of people, used to belittle, harass, and enslave an entire group of people. So now, yes, some people are reclaiming it to empower themselves and make it their word. Words are more than words. They communicate to other people so much about you and your beliefs. This is so beyond being “politically correct”, and yet it’s continued to be ignored.
Maybe I slightly understand this more because nothing makes me more uncomfortable and unwelcome in a situation than hearing someone say “dyke” about someone maybe simply just based on their outfit. It just hurts in a way I can’t quite describe, and then seeing people laugh, like you see girls in the video smiling while singing, it makes me think “wow, these people think that’s funny, guess I’m going to keep my mouth shut about being gay” and it really makes me not want to be around these people, knowing that they don’t accept who I am.
This is what happens to young girls when they see videos like this. They could think “woah, this is a college lacrosse team doing this, maybe I shouldn’t play in college, maybe I shouldn’t play at all”. Parents alike I’m sure feel the same about their child playing. I know because I saw a parent comment when the Alex Aust situation happened, that this is exactly why she didn’t want her son playing lacrosse. That saddens me to no end, which is why I can’t stop thinking about this.
Maybe, with both of my experiences, I can create a place of understanding, but even more, a place to further discuss finding a solution. Even though now I’m much more knowledgable about race in our society, and in our sport, it’s still uncomfortable to discuss. It will never come easy, because I am speaking about a topic that I will never fully understand as much as I will try because I am not a POC. Because of this, I will never say the right thing, and that’s scary, messing up, especially for someone like me who is a perfectionist. I just know that silence is not the answer, and it is not the job of every minority in this sport or in this country to explain to white people why certain things are okay in black culture and not for everyone else. To truly be an ally of someone you have to stand up for them, and that’s what the sport of lacrosse needs. Not to explain, but for every time this happens in private, for an ally to stand up and say “that’s not okay”. If you do want to understand, then read, and read some more. There is so much out there for people to learn if you seek it. You just need to go in with an open and understanding mind, and I bet you will.
I wrote this today because in the lacrosse community, that’s what we’re supposed to be, a community. We protect our own, not just a select few. I will always be an ally because of this, and because we all need allies. We need people that will have our backs no matter what, that will stand up for us and fight for us. The lacrosse community is one big team, and I think if we can understand that, we can understand why we need to change.