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Anytime you're the first person to do anything, it's special. It took 41 years for a black head coach to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts were the first two black coaches to ever meet on the nation’s biggest stage.
Coach Darry Thornton and Coach Richard Carrington have now added their names to the history books.
The game between the Lees-McRae men’s lacrosse team and the Tusculum men’s lacrosse team is certainly not the Super Bowl, but the game does has significant value that should not go unnoticed. This is the first time in history that two black head coaches have matched up on opposite sides in a Division II lacrosse game.
It’s about time.
There is a very complicated history surrounding the struggle of black head coaches and the limited opportunities for these coaches to be the face of a program. There have been plenty of conversations about this in other sports, such as the NFL’s Rooney Rule and the NCAA’s Racial and Gender Report Card, so this is not a new issue. But in a young, growing sport like lacrosse, this discussion is just scratching the surface.
Being a coach of color in a predominately white sport gives you a completely different outlook on the game and the role you play in lacrosse. You know the responsibility you carry. That status may vary depending on the school size or legacy surrounding your program, but somewhere and somehow, eyes are always watching.
As a former collegiate coach of color, the pressure was magnified because I was a visible leader in the community. With every accomplishment and every success I had on the lacrosse field, I could remove another thorn of bias and bigotry. I felt like I stood for all black coaches, and I wore their badge as well as mine. I had to do everything with excellence, because I had a burden to carry whether I wanted it or not—so I learned to embrace it.
And I was nowhere close to Tony Dungy.
So when you have an opportunity to meet and play against another head coach of color in lacrosse like Coach Thornton and Coach Carrington have today, it’s a privilege, and it’s historically significant. Although you’re playing as opponents, you both understand the value of each other and what your leadership represents for the sport of lacrosse.
Hopefully stories like this increase the opportunities for coaches of color. I hope this opens the door for a new generation of coaches, who proudly own their responsibility to the sport like Tina Sloan-Green and Rick Sowell. Change has come slowly, but this small Division II game hopefully foretells what is yet to come—another barrier broken and another door open. We’re not there yet, but every step forward is progress.
And that is a very good thing.
Eboni Preston is the associate director of diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse.
US Lacrosse seeks to foster a national lacrosse community that encourages understanding, appreciation and acceptance of all within its membership, volunteer base, and staff. Further, US Lacrosse believes that broad representation and participation add significant value to the lacrosse experience of each of us, and that these valued experiences are enhanced by embracing underrepresented and underserved communities.
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