Kyle Harrison wants you to understand he isn’t the official voice of diversity in the sport of lacrosse.

But he also doesn’t shy away from the responsibility.

For the fourth straight year, the Baltimore native and long-time professional player was part of a US Lacrosse LaxCon panel that discussed the current state of diversity and inclusion in lacrosse. He accepts the invitation each year because he knows that a continuing dialogue is one of the things needed to bring about change.

“I’m not sure if we’re making progress, but I want to say we are because the discussions are continuing,” Harrison said. “It starts with the discussion.”

Through the years, Harrison has come to accept the fact that lending his significant voice and support to others in the quest for inclusion can make a difference. With Harrison’s encouragement, this year’s LaxCon session included panelists representing the LGBT community as well as female athletes.

“I’m much more comfortable now than I used to be in using my voice and platform,” Harrison said. “I’m cognizant of the fact that people are looking to me to speak up.”

As one of the most decorated players of his generation, Harrison has grown into the responsibility of fostering positive change in the sport he loves. He was a three-time All-American at Johns Hopkins and the 2005 Tewaaraton Award winner, which led to his role as the very visible face of STX Lacrosse.

Harrison also represented his country as a member of the 2006 and 2014 U.S. Men’s National Teams, and his professional career has spanned 12 seasons across the MLL and PLL.

In addition, Harrison serves as a member of the US Lacrosse Board of Directors and as a leader of the Premier Lacrosse League’s philanthropic initiative, PLL Assists. 

As an African-American, Harrison acknowledges that for many years any mention of diversity immediately turned his focus to those most similar to himself. It was, of course, quite natural to do so. But even that mindset is changing for Harrison.

“My thinking has evolved,” he said. “Now, I look outside that group to all levels of diversity. Each thing that has happened in my career brought me a little closer to who I am today.”

While acknowledging that there’s still much work to be done, Harrison believes that small steps forward for inclusion are being taken. He shared an example from the 2019 PLL season.

“We decided to create ‘Paving the Way’ shirts for all of our players last season,” he said. “These shirts were designed to recognize influential African-American men and women who inspired a generation of black players. These were basically shooting shirts or pre-warm up shirts, and I made it clear to all the players that wearing them was completely voluntary. There was absolutely no league mandate. And yet everyone wore them. Completely voluntarily. That made me feel great, like we had just achieved a small win. That’s a step forward.”

Harrison knows that greater diversity and inclusion in lacrosse, however, is much more complex than developing special shirts. At its core, diversity must become part of the very culture of the sport.

“It needs to just ‘feel’ better,” he said. “It goes way beyond the optics of just seeing more brown legs on the field. The game needs to feel more inclusive, especially to those that are just starting to play at the beginner levels of the sport. They need to feel included. We must all understand how our actions can make other people feel.”

For now, Harrison is committed to finding opportunities to continue the conversations. He remains active on social media because he is prodded by others when his voice remains silent for too long. He knows that it’s one of the tools that can help shape and educate the next generation.

“We won’t change the world overnight, but one simple idea can serve as a starting point,” Harrison said. 

Cultural Competency

US Lacrosse’s online training tool is designed to help provide further understanding about the importance of inclusion.

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