Lacrosse continues to spread as America’s fastest growing sport, yet its participants remain primarily affluent white. 86% of college lacrosse players are white and when we narrow down our focus to Division I lacrosse, the number of white players increases to 98.1%. Despite NFL Hall of Fame running back legend Jim Brown (an African American man) taking great pride in his legendary lacrosse career at Syracuse and remaining an active ambassador for the game, as well as lacrosse showcasing extremely talented and charismatic African American players like Chazz Woodson, Miles Jones, and Tari Kandemiri; there remains a glaring lack of African American and other minority participation in the sport. This is very odd in a sport whose origins trace back to the indigenous Native American people of North American continent.
Why is this the case? From my own observation though the years dating back to when I played youth ball, I have learned that there are multiple reasons for lingering lack of diversity in the game of lacrosse.
This was more a factor in the 80’s and 90’s than it is today when one did not see as many African Americans living in affluent middle class and wealthy communities as we do now, as African Americans were beginning to transcend generations of oppression in the United States and increasingly join the ranks of middle class, upper middle class and wealthy suburbia. In more urban and inner city communities where a higher percentage of African American people lived (and to a large degree still do today), schools simply would not or could not invest precious little financial resources into offering a sport that was so far outside of the main stream. For those areas, that remains largely unchanged.
The cost of gear for families was and is a significant barrier to entry into the sport. While most schools that have lacrosse provide equipment for the players during the spring season, in a sport where participation in club teams, camps, and prospect events, it really has become essential for players to have their own gear.
Still, in my generally affluent home town of Viera, Florida where like other middle class communities communities across the nation there is a refreshing shift with increasing populations of African American families adding diversity to suburbia, money for these families is generally not a significant barrier to participation. This bring me to my next point.
I recall when my friends and I were all falling in love with the sport of lacrosse as kids and much to the chagrin of our fathers we gave up baseball. Having grown up idolizing the stars of the national past time in an area steeped in the tradition of the NY Yankees, NY Mets, and Brooklyn Dodgers, many of our dads were confounded that we would give up baseball for this weird sport called lacrosse. Of course over time watching our games and experiencing the exhilaration of the fastest game on 2 feet we changed their hearts and minds, it did not happen over night.
Beyond being a sport that was foreign to our fathers, they also would say things like, “there’s no money in lacrosse,” suggesting that we were potentially throwing away a lucrative Major league Baseball contract one day by choosing lacrosse over baseball. While a tiny select few reach the ranks of Division I college and professional in all sports, the vast majority athletes will not. As such, becoming a professional athlete as primary motivation for participating in youth and high school sports is very misplaced motivation. Try telling our fathers that in the mid 80’s.
When a small group of individuals started lacrosse here in 2008, we got the same push back from even white affluent parents, but again gradually won many of their hearts and minds as they accepted and later embraced the sport of lacrosse. To this day, however,as our lacrosse club grows exponentially each year, African American participation remains sorely lacking despite us marketing to the same schools their children attend and holding free introductory clinics in the parks of the community they live in.
I got some insight as to why this is one year when my son played a season of tackle football and I befriended the many parents of my son’s African American teammates. Naturally, I was recruiting for lacrosse while I was playing the rare role of sideline parent and in the course of several conversations I had, I learned that families simply retain a cultural hangover from a time in the not so far off past when because of lack of equal opportunity, sports were viewed by in large as a primary means to an education and even a path to wealth that becoming a professional athlete would bring.
A More Diverse Future In Lacrosse
Having seen the barriers that the sport of lacrosse has overcome in the years I have participated in the game, I hold great hope that we will at some point make inroads in drawing more minority participants. With US Lacrosse initiatives including their First Stick program where they provide equipment grants to urban and less affluent suburban communities and the Urban Lacrosse Alliance that is dedicated to creating and sustaining urban youth lacrosse programs, slowly but surely we will see a day when lacrosse is a staple sport representing many classes ans cultures.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.