Lauren Davenport is the manager of athlete development at US Lacrosse. She has coached lacrosse at the youth, high school and collegiate levels.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the longer and often more silenced pandemic of racism towards the Black Community in America has been brought to the forefront in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Additionally, there was the racial profiling of Christian Cooper in Central Park. There are protests, calls for justice, calls for reform, and so much going on while the country gradually reopens. From US Lacrosse’s statement to USWNT’s statement to @OfficialLaxGirl sharing her experiences to so many others sharing their experiences with racism, I have found myself asking: What is next? What can people do? What are some ways our lacrosse community can make a difference?

Before I begin, I should probably introduce myself — I am Lauren, the manager of athlete development at US Lacrosse. I am a Maryland native. I am a Black Woman. With US Lacrosse, I have written about Helping Athletes Stay in Shape in the time of COVID-19 as well as about Building Context Between Practice and Competition. In similar thinking to bringing context between practice and competition, I want to bring some context and understanding to the lacrosse world considering the current spotlight on the racial injustice of the Black Community in the United States. Before I begin, I would like to say this: These are my ideas and experiences — my truth. I am OK if you agree, disagree, or have questions. I just invite you to read and interpret in a way that makes sense for your experience while being respectful and mindful of my experience.

To start, I have a question: How do you recruit/find defenders versus your players for offense? Yes, there are the staples of intangible skills, lax IQ, general athleticism, etc. that any player can have. What is it about defenders that gets them recruited, though? Think about it this way: players on offense, in the midfield, or who are goalies can have an edge in getting recruited simply because they consistently have plenty of stats to follow them around (i.e. assists, shots on goal, shots and saves). On the other hand, defenders may have some stats — but they may not have been consistently recorded (i.e. ground balls, caused turnovers, interceptions and clears). So, coaches must adjust how they evaluate players in order to get defenders they need. You may be thinking, “Right, I get that. It all makes sense. What does that have to do with the racial injustice of the Black Community in the United States?” Coaches who recruit/find defenders must create opportunities for defenders to be found and be successful. In other words, they cannot find defenders in the same way they would find someone for offense, midfield, center/FOGO, or goalies. Something must be different. That is the point.

It is no secret that the lacrosse community as a whole lacks diversity of socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity. Given the spotlight on the racial injustice of the Black Community in America, now is as good a time as ever to use this spotlight to move us forward. In order to move us forward, we need to do things differently as a lacrosse community. If we can shift our evaluations to recruit defenders, we can also shift our means to bring more people of color into the sport of lacrosse. However, we must begin with opportunity.

Let’s start by looking at the opportunities. When I think of creating opportunities, I think of baseball coach Erik Bakich of Michigan. Sports rivalries aside, he has changed a bit of the baseball world with the mentality that his baseball team should have a roster that reflects the United States of America. He and his coaching staff went beyond mainstream recruiting tournaments and showcases and into both urban and rural areas to find players because he recognized that the expense of travel ball and showcases eliminated opportunities for a lot of talented players.

To me, this sounds a lot like the lacrosse world: expensive equipment, lots of travel and lots of tournaments for players to get recognized and recruited — and it works. On the other hand, players and families who do not have the means to be in those circles are unable to get the same opportunities. To get the socioeconomic and racial diversity the sport needs, we must be willing to go beyond the normal channels to find players. As Bakich admits, it takes extra work and is hard, but it is worth it to create more opportunities for players.

It is also important to note that this is not just for college recruiting. This applies to the grassroots and youth levels, too. To start, ask yourself this: How do I get players to my program and does my team reflect the diversity of America? What could you do differently — even if it takes a little extra work — to make that happen? For example, say you are a program not affiliated with a school and you are planning to host tryouts. Traditionally, you promote this on your social media and by word of mouth — which is great, and it works. What if you adjusted your outreach this coming season? In addition to what you normally do, this year you promote your program at local schools, at the local community center and in all neighborhoods (not just the ones surrounding your field) — even adjusting the cost (or eliminating it completely) so that more players have the opportunity to be there. Maybe, you get a lot of interest, but players say “no” because the field is too far away. Could you change fields to one that is more central/equidistant to where players are coming from? Could you have multiple practice locations to provide more opportunities for players to participate?

Opportunity is not just about the players — it is about coaches, too. As a lacrosse community, we also need to create opportunities for coaches of color to become a part of the sport and stay in the sport. Why? Because we have our own aspirations as coaches to guide players in a sport that we love. Because coaches of color open doors for players of color. We understand the world through the lens of our players of color through shared experiences. We provide safety. I will never forget coaching a U14 girls' team with Oakland Lacrosse that had players of different races and ethnicities. I coached with two other people: one Caucasian woman and one Latino man. Beyond our shared lax IQ and our position-specific understanding as coaches, we brought a different energy and understanding to our team because of our unique diversity (in addition embodying the values of Oakland Lacrosse).

One of the most important moments from coaching with Oakland Lacrosse came to me from an African American mother of one of my players. This mother who stopped me randomly after a practice or a game to share her gratitude for me coaching because her daughter had never had a lacrosse coach who looked like her. That moment, that conversation, is something that I will probably never forget. She shared that not to negate the value of any other coach, but to share this: my presence showed her daughter an opportunity and a space for her in this sport. With the diversity of the other coaches and myself, we showed our entire team that there is opportunity and space for them in this sport.

That opportunity — to have so many players of color and other people of color as co-coaches — is unfortunately an anomaly. However, it is not an anomaly that has to continue. We have the call to do the extra work right here, right now. We need to look beyond our traditional avenues and do something different. We need to create the opportunities so that our teams across the country reflect the racial diversity of our country. Coaches and players of color need to know that there is space in this sport for us.

I hope that one day soon, the diversity of coaches I had with Oakland Lacrosse will not be an anomaly — it will just be how it is in our sport. I hope that one day soon, I won’t be the first Black Woman coach my players encounter because they will have had others before me. I hope that one day soon, lacrosse teams across the country will have more people of color on them regardless of socioeconomic status.

So, this is my call to action: Will you do the extra work to create the opportunities for our sport to have space for people of color? As a coach and USL staff member, I pledge to:

  • Do my best to learn about racial injustice in America (about the Black Community I belong to and about other communities of color)

  • Have meaningful conversations with others about diversity, equity and inclusion

  • Do the extra work to create opportunities for players and coaches of color to not only become part of the lacrosse community, but stay in the lacrosse community.

I invite you, the reader, to make a pledge, commitments that are meaningful to you and take meaningful action. Let’s all do our part to move forward together.