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David Wang

The Social History of Lacrosse in America

History 1302 section S10

It was March 31, 1991. I am celebrating my eighteenth birthday with forty of my closest friends. We are at Senor Frogs in Mazatlan, Mexico. After all of the intoxicating fun and festivities were over, it was the early hours of the next morning. The vibrant sunrise forcefully sent our slumbered bodies crawling back into our hotel rooms. At eighteen years old, each and every one of us is proud at how hung over we are. Everyone is feeling physically ill from the amount of cheap tequila we consumed, except for two of us. Jessica Eatharton was the White Girl I always wanted to have for a girlfriend. Growing up in America, she was what I always sought after. She was the pinnacle of social status. Jessica and I woke up in each others arms on the beach watching the same Mexican sunrise that was crippling to everyone else, but energizing for us. Yes, after a year of pursuance, it finally happened. Jessica and I were together as a couple. What an amazing eighteenth birthday present. What does this have to do with the social impact of lacrosse? Well, none of this story ever would have happened in my life if I did not play lacrosse. I remember Jessica looked into my eyes and said, I did not even know who you were a year ago. She was right. A year ago we didnt socialize at all. So what changed in that year to make us part of the same social group, the same social status? I became a lacrosse standout for Thomas Jefferson High School. It was my second year on the varsity team I was a senior, and a team captain. I found myself not only friends with, but socially a part of the lacrosse players social group. Jessica was an absolute beautiful, preppy, affluent, well educated, proper, white girl. And now, I was a part of the white boys who were the same, lacrosse players. But I didnt grow up with an affluent, well educated,

proper, white family. As a lacrosse player, everyone assumed that I did. It helped that I was Asian. If I were Black or Mexican I would have had to prove my affluence to be accepted as one of them. I was born in South Korea. My father moved our family to Colorado in 1977. My aunt and her family had lived there for five years before we came over. My father was a middleclass working Korean. He was a mechanic in the Korean Air Force. He worked construction most of his life. He was not the typical lacrosse father. In 1980 my father purchased a motel in the North side of Denver. That is where I grew up, in the Mexican hood of North East Denver. How did a middle class Korean boy get to play lacrosse with the rich kids on the south side of Denver? Well, in the 1980s and 1990s Denver Public Schools enforced an anti segregation law passed in the 1970s. DPS bused kids from all over town to ensure racial diversity in each and every school. This gave the opportunity for kids like me to be exposed to culture that we normally wouldnt be a part of. Nobody knew what lacrosse was in my part of town. I lived in the north side of Denver. My neighborhood was predominantly Hispanic Americans. My nickname from my friends was sarcastically, Mexican . I was the only Asian kid in the neighborhood. Because of all the busing, I was able to play lacrosse. One of the best lacrosse programs in Denver was Denver East. Denver East is in the inner city of Denver. It is in a neighborhood littered with crime and the indigent. It is unique to see a lacrosse game played next to the homeless. The affluent, rich, white boys, who lived in the upper-class neighborhoods of South Denver, were bused across town to Denver East. This also provided exposure for a culture that those boys would have never seen. It created

sympathy, understanding and acceptance for the lower-class of the inner-city. These lacrosse players went to school with the tough kids of Denver East. Because of their daily interactions, they were no longer afraid of the inner-city. Anti-segregation busing benefitted the well-to-do along with the have-nots. Eventually, with enough opposition and lobbying from the upperclass, anti-segregation busing laws have been changed. DPS no longer buses kids all over town. Consequently, the Denver East lacrosse program is now struggling. And the upper-class white neighborhoods dominate lacrosse once again. Lacrosse has always been associated with the upper-class. In America upper-class has historically meant white. This is true because wealth and power has always been owned and controlled by whites. Lacrosse has always been a part of the North Eastern states of America. New York State, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia are some of the well known lacrosse hotbeds. Historically lacrosse started in the North Eastern United States.

Lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America, with its origin dating back to the 1400s. It did not become generally known and talked about however, until the 1600s when a Jesuit missionary named Jean de Brebeuf saw the Hyron Indians play it. In a report to his superiors, he stated little about the actual play of the game but seemed to be intrigued by the stick the Indians used while playing. Jean de Brebeuf likened the stick the Indians competed with, to the "crosier" carried at religious ceremonies by a bishop. Thus, the name la crosse evolved, and this later became simply "lacrosse."1

See www.laxhistory.com More Lacrosse History, http://www.laxhistory.com/history/index.htm?/history/version2.htm~laxmain , accessed April 11, 2010

Indian lacrosse was a mass game and often teams were made up of one hundred to one thousand braves on each side. The goals were usually five-hundred yards to one-half mile apart. On occasion, the goals could be separated by several miles. Usually a large rock or tree was considered the goal and a score was recorded by hitting the rock or tree with a ball. Some tribes used goal posts six to nine feet apart, and the ball had to pass between them for a score, much like today's game.

Games lasted from sunup to sundown and stretched over the course of two or three days. Lacrosse games were originally used to toughen braves for actual combat. There were even times when games were played between two tribes to settle their differences or disputes.

It was not until the early 1800s that the French pioneers started playing lacrosse seriously. With their participation in the sport came the first signs of turning lacrosse into a more civilized game. Canadian dentist W. George Beers standardized the game in 1867 with the adoption of set field dimensions, limits to the number of players per team, and other basic rules. Little did the French settlers know that they would be credited for being the forefathers of lacrosse, along with the Native American Indians. New York University fielded the nation's first college team in 1877, and Philips Andover Academy (Mass.), Philips Exeter Academy (NH.) and the Lawrenceville School (N.J.) were the nations' first high school teams in 1882.

In the early 1900s lacrosse became recognized as a "force to be reckoned with." It was during this time that the game was first played in Olympic competition, and the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse League (USILL) was formed. In 1926, the USILL was replaced by the

United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association, which is still the governing body of lacrosse today. 2

Lacrosse continued to grow in America during the mid 1900s, and today the game is played by over five hundred colleges and universities, as well as over three thousand high schools nationwide. Women's lacrosse is booming too. Over five hundred colleges and universities, along with twenty three hundred high schools, currently sponsor programs. There are over ten thousand youth programs in the US to date, and growing. Lacrosse is the fastest growing team sport in America.3

This amazing growth for lacrosse has occurred in the last decade. Why has lacrosse become so popular? What precipitated the huge increase in numbers? This drastic popularity could not have happened without the inclusion and acceptance of minorities. In the past decade there has been an overwhelming increase in minority participation from the youth to high school. However, the collegiate teams still have only have the elite upper-class. It is still an exclusive whites only club.

When we look at the games past, facts are facts. I will focus mainly on Division 1 mens college lacrosse and the exclusion of African Americans. The truth is that at the Division 1 level, lacrosse has been, overwhelmingly, a white sport. In the forty years from 1957 to 1996, only five African-American players were named first team All-American in Division 1 lacrosse. The

See www.laxhistory.com Native American History of Lacrosse, http://www.laxhistory.com/ , accessed April 11, 2010

See www.laxpower.com Lacrosse High School & College Archives http://www.laxpower.com/common/archives.php , accessed April 11, 2010

first was the legendary running back Jim Brown, at Syracuse, in 1957. James Nathaniel (Jim) Brown was a standout lacrosse player at Manhasset High School in New York. He was so dominant at Syracuse, that they later created the Jim Brown rule. After Brown, there were no black All-Americans for the next twenty-three years. Then, in 1981, Syd Abernathy, an attackman at the Naval Academy, was named first-team All-American. He was followed a year later by Albert Ray, a midfielder from Rutgers. Ray was also the starting tailback on the Rutgers football team. In 1987, Brian Jackson, a defenseman from the University of Maryland, earned first-team All America recognition. He was followed, in 1996, by Tommy Smith, a defenseman from the University of Virginia.4 I remember reading an online newspaper article in the late 1990s which said that in the year in question there were only seven African American players on the rosters of Division 1 mens teams. Seven! Could that statement have been true? I was not keeping score, but I have no reason to doubt its validity. And yet there have been real changes in lacrosse. Less in terms of absolute numbers, which remain small in Division 1, than in terms of impact and visibility which is significant at the youth and high school levels. In 2003 Damien Davis, a senior at Princeton, was named first-team All-American at defense; and two African-American players, both of them only sophomores, earned second-team All America recognition: John Christmas, an attackman at Virginia; and Kyle Harrison, a midfielder at Johns Hopkins. In 2004, Harrison moved up to first-team All-American, was named Midfielder of the Year. He won the Tewaaraton Trophy, awarded to the nations outstanding player the following year. Kyle

See www.uslacrosse.org Changing The Face of the Game, http://www.uslacrosse.org/bridge/pdf/face_of_game_article.pdf , accessed April 15, 2010

Harrison was son of Dr. Miles Harrison. Dr. Harrison was an original member of the Morgan State lacrosse team of the 1970s. They were the first and only all black collegiate lacrosse team in history. They were known as. The Ten Bears. Dr. Harrison was introduced to lacrosse in his sophomore year by his Forest Park High School football coach Charles Waeche, the long time voice of Washington College lacrosse. Harrison had just completed quarterbacking his high school football team, coached by Mr. Waeche, to a conference championship and was challenged by his coach to learn how to keep a lacrosse ball in his stick by the next February. Harrison accepted the challenge and went on to play attack and take face-offs for his team. By his senior year he was selected all conference MSA at midfield, an interesting award for an attackman. Harrison was also Forest Park's Scholar Athlete selection and 1967 Athlete of the Year. Upon arriving at Morgan State College, Harrison found he was not quite tall enough to be an effective quarterback at Morgan State. The Bears at the time had players such as Willie Lanier, eventual All-Pro middle linebacker with Kansas City and Hall of Fame member, Raymond Chester, future All-Pro tight end with the Baltimore Colts, and Mark Washington, later an AllPro defensive back with the Dallas Cowboys. After his sophomore year, he re-connected with other lacrosse players at Morgan he had played against in high school. At least six of them were accomplished, and the idea of forming a club team arose, and in 1969 the Morgan State College lacrosse team began to develop. The dream of a team was realized in 1970 when 20 student athletes, with Chip Silverman as coach, began spring club lacrosse practice. Seven players had achieved All-MSA

awards, and seven others played in high school. Others had not played but were high quality football student athletes. Because of his prior experience, Harrison played attack and took faceoffs. In their first year of play, the team had a 6-4 record playing local club teams, Division I freshman teams, and teams that today would be considered Division III. It was good enough to get the NCAA's approval. The team saw its first year of NCAA lacrosse in 1970, finishing 8-4. They were as athletically talented, though less polished, than their competitors. Harrison was selected to the North-South All-Star team at midfield, another rather interesting honor, for the game played at Tufts. The team was beginning to get national recognition. Harrison graduated in 1971 and went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Morgan State continued to play well for five more years, culminating in the huge win in 1975 over Washington and Lee, who was ranked number 1 in the country after they upset Johns Hopkins in the NCAA playoffs that year.5 Today, lacrosse has become a mainstream sport. It is a sanctioned high school sport in 21 states in the US. National television exposure from ESPN, FOX, CBS Sports, and other local sports stations has introduced lacrosse to millions of viewers. With over 10,000 youth teams across the country, lacrosse is present in all US states, Alaska and Hawaii included. 6 With sanctioning at the high school level, this automatically makes it more accessible to all students, minorities included. A high school sanctioned sport makes the cost more reasonable, and even has a no-cost option for the low-income students. It also prevents any

See www.laxpower.com Ten Bears, http://www.laxpower.com/laxnews/news.php?story=1161&page=1 , accessed May 1, 2010 6 See www.uslacrosse.org High Schools http://www.uslacrosse.org/highschools , accessed April 26, 2010


kind of social exclusion that clubs may be associated with. Many club high school lacrosse teams have club dues so expensive, that it effectively only includes the upper-class students. There are many programs that honestly accept minorities with open arms. But, the majority of club teams still have an elitist aura about them. The disparity in numbers for minorities playing youth lacrosse compared to minorities playing NCAA lacrosse is indicative of social perception. When opportunity is given at youth all the way to the high school level, minorities excel at the sport. The overall numbers have increased in the lacrosse community. Minority players have been recognized at all levels of the game, for their outstanding skills and accomplishments. Yet, there is a huge difference in their numbers in the NCAA programs. Dont the NCAA lacrosse coaches want to recruit the best lacrosse players? Why would they pass on a four year all-state athlete, and recruit an athlete who has never been an all-state player. The answer is simple, one is white and upper-class, and the other, a minority from the inner-city. There are a few reasons for this injustice. The NCAA coaches, and the high school coaches have a good old boys club that they practice to enforce. All of the top high school programs hire past accomplished lacrosse personnel. This will hopefully change with the increase in opportunities, and minority participation and acceptance. Another reason is with a limited number of NCAA programs, the colleges choose athletes that can also be active boosters in their program. This excludes everyone but the upper-class. The last and most socially disturbing reason is the fact that society still has the impression of minorities as being uneducated. Society still has a belief that white students are on average smarter and better students than the minorities.


If you look at the history of lacrosse, it is a reflection of the general opinions of society for the time. From the inception of modern lacrosse to the 1960s there was a clear separation in lacrosse. If you were white you could play, and if you werent you didnt. In society there was also a clear separation and segregation of people by race. In the 1960s the Equal Rights Movement started in America. In the 1960s the first black lacrosse players could be seen on the fields. Each and every decade since the 1960s the country has inched a little closer to equality in America. Each decade the participation of minorities in lacrosse has increased as well. Today, with the exception of the NCAA, minorities are well represented in the sport of lacrosse. The stigma of being a lacrosse player can also be a detriment. How can being perceived as upper-class, well-educated, and white be bad in America? Ask the lacrosse players of Duke University, they can tell you.

On April 11, 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper stepped before a crowded press conference and spoke the words that ended one of the most publicized legal stories in recent American history. We believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges, he said.

Coopers long-awaited decision ended a legal ordeal for three Duke University students who had been charged with first-degree sexual offense, kidnapping and, earlier, with rape. The allegations were made by one of two exotic dancers that members of the Duke mens lacrosse team had hired to perform at an off-campus party in March 2006. Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong stated publicly that a rape had taken place and prosecuted the three students


vigorously even as evidence mounted that raised serious questions about the accusers credibility and the veracity of the charges.

Cooper took over the case in January 2007 after the state bar association filed ethics charges against Nifong for withholding exculpatory evidence and making inflammatory statements about the case. In dismissing the charges and stating the attack never occurred, Cooper spoke of a rush to accuse and said there were many points in this case where caution would have served justice better than bravado.

The case changed the lives of the three young men and their families and deeply affected the broader Duke community, which found itself in the spotlight with major stories in The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and thousands of other outlets. Five segments on 60 Minutes were devoted to the case, as were extensive commentaries on blogs and tabloid television shows.7

Eventually all the accused lacrosse players were found to be not guilty. But their lives were ruined for the 2 years while they were demonized by public opinion. Those rich white boys think they can do anything, that money can put them above the law . Those were the opinions that drove the hatred for those three lacrosse players. Lacrosse players in general were seen as stuck up and snooty. It was an overall societal opinion of the upper-class that precipitated the quick actions against the Duke lacrosse players.

See www.duke.edu Looking Back at the Duke Lacrosse Case. http://news.duke.edu/lacrosseincident/ , accessed May 1, 2010


In 2006-2007 America was in a deep recession. Americans lost their life-long savings and pensions. The elite, filthy rich, top executives were to blame. The media was reporting stories of executive corruption each and every day. They were convicted of wrong-doings by federal judges. America had a villain to blame, a face of evil. And for the first time in American history, it was a rich white man. Lacrosse players have always represented the rich white man. This made them an easy target. If the Duke incident happened in any other decade in American history, it would have been a complete different story, in most decades not a story at all. Because in any other decade, America would have protected its cherished white man. Today, domestically and definitely internationally, there is a growing resentment towards white Americans.

Throughout my life I have experienced what social impact lacrosse plays. You know my story with Jessica Eatharton. I honestly believe that I moved up in the corporate work force during the past 18 years due to my reputation as a lacrosse player. At several interviews, my hobby listed, lacrosse was more important than my actual job related skills. I have had females come on to me, directly after they heard I was a lacrosse player. I can assume these reactions are because they had a preconceived notion of lacrosse players. I really didnt fit the stereotype at all.

Lacrosse has not had a great impact on society in America. It has been more of a mirror to the status and health of society and public opinion. This absolutely makes sense to me. America has been controlled by white men since, before we were a nation. Lacrosse has been played and controlled by white men since its modern beginnings. As the nation changes, so


does lacrosse. Today as the diversity in America is a reality. Minority numbers grow each and every year. And opportunity for minorities has been increasing as well. Except for one area, the elite upper-class, and executive positions. Those positions are still completely controlled by the rich white man. They may give up many things, but they do not want to give up power. The exact scenario is reflected in lacrosse today. The overall numbers have increased for minorities. Opportunities have increased for minorities. Everything is starting to look more equal, except for the top positions. NCAA scholarship players and coaches are still almost all white, upperclass. White men stole America from the Native American Indians and changed it for their own use. White men also stole lacrosse from the Native American Indians and changed it for their own use. Lacrosse, like society is a gauge on what the white man has done. What they can control, how much influence they have, and overall their status in America.

In closing, we all want the American dream. We all wish for prosperity. We all want equality. And this can easily be obtained. Have all the children grow up to be lacrosse players!


Works Cited
www.uslacrosse.org Changing The Face of the Game, http://www.uslacrosse.org/bridge/pdf/face_of_game_article.pdf , accessed April 15, 2010 www.uslacrosse.org High Schools http://www.uslacrosse.org/highschools , accessed April 26, 2010 www.laxpower.com Lacrosse High School & College Archives http://www.laxpower.com/common/archives.php , accessed April 11, 2010 www.duke.edu Looking Back at the Duke Lacrosse Case. http://news.duke.edu/lacrosseincident/ , accessed May 1, 2010 www.laxhistory.com More Lacrosse History, http://www.laxhistory.com/history/index.htm?/history/version2.htm~laxmain , accessed April 11, 2010 www.laxhistory.com Native American History of Lacrosse, http://www.laxhistory.com/ , accessed April 11, 2010 www.laxpower.com Ten Bears, http://www.laxpower.com/laxnews/news.php?story=1161&page=1 , accessed May 1, 2010