Jeremy Thompson can’t believe his brother was the target of racist language at a lacrosse game.
On Saturday, Thompson’s brother Lyle was playing for the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) Georgia Swarm when the Philadelphia Wings’ announcer told the crowd “let’s snip the ponytail,” in response to his long braid. Some fans reacted, and Philadelphia fans behind the bench began to shout calls to scalp him.
Jeremy, a member of the Onondaga Nation in New York, and a player for the Saskatchewan Rush in Saskatoon, said he was shocked.
“This issue is a lot bigger than I thought,” he told CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning. “It’s saddening to me.”
Since the initial incident, announcer Shawny Hill has been permanently removed from his role with the Philadelphia Wings and suspended from his assignments at the Wells Fargo Center. As well, the team has vowed to bring in diversity training for all of its employees while the NLL said it has a “zero tolerance policy for any derogatory or discriminatory statements.”
“It’s really disgusting,” said Thompson. “It’s something that our people have been going through since 500 years ago.”
Thompson said his brother had noted the crowd had already started shouting comments about scalping during pre-game practice.
“It was already there,” he said. “It fed into what was already there with the fans.”
Like his brother, Thompson also wears his hair in a braid as part of his heritage.
“Culturally, it’s more than a long piece of hair,” he said. “For me, personally, it’s a connection to our ancestors.”
Thompson and his brothers grew up playing lacrosse in their backyard, as have countless generations on the Onondaga Nation. Lacrosse was invented by First Nations and is an important part of their culture.
After speaking to elders and family members, Thompson and his brother have decided to start an information campaign for players and fans of the league.
“Honestly, I think it’s the ignorance of people and lack of knowledge,” he said. “I think there is racism still out there, and it’s sad to hear it.”
In 2017, the NLL named Lyle Thompson as the most valuable player in 2017. In August, he was honoured with its sportsmanship award honouring “those with the greatest combination of character and performance” in the league.