Imagine two households. One household only listens to Rock music. The other household only listens to R&B music. Imagine that the children of the households go to the same neighborhood school and are in the same after school music club. As they get to know each other, the child of the Rock household quickly learns that everyone in the club only knows about R&B. In an ideal situation, everyone learns about R&B and Rock (along with other genres), and they all grow to appreciate music of different genres. However, there are some other possibilities of what could happen. What if those that like R&B do not give Rock music a chance — so, the one child feels isolated and feels like they must assimilate to the group or feel like an outsider? What if greater conflict comes from the children and now there’s a battle of music genres? Imagine being that child from the household who only listens to Rock. Imagine having to decide what to do while others are oblivious or simply choose not to help. Imagine taking a stand and then being penalized for doing so. Imagine knowing that taking a stand could result in short- and long-term consequences.

Even though this is a hypothetical scenario, it is reflective of how some groups operate. Presently, as the United States of America is having multiple and continuous conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, we can no longer perpetuate spaces that do not truly embrace differences and penalize those who stand up for their beliefs. The point being that we must embrace differences in a way that does not force others to all be the same because that only creates more problems.

When I think of the sports world over the last few years through the lens of social justice, I think of the many professional athletes who chose different ways to protest (kneel, fist in the air, wore shirts, etc.) before 2020. Why then? From 2016 to 2019 alone, many professional athletes were penalized (lost sponsorships, lost positions, fined, etc.) for peacefully protesting in their respective platforms. The racial unrest of 2020 has resulted in different reactions to the current moments of peaceful protest by professional athletes. Leagues have shifted policies and are no longer sending fines to athletes for exercising their Constitutional rights. Some league leaders have even apologized for not understanding sooner.

A major turning point of social justice in sport happened this summer after the shooting of Jacob Blake because teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLS and MLB, plus Naomi Osaka, walked out of their respective competitions. Some people only saw an inconvenience of not getting to see professional athletes perform — pushing back on the athletes’ decision by telling them to “focus on playing and not on politics.” In a sense, viewers wanted athletes to keep going for the sake of entertainment despite the weight of the physical, mental and emotional toll of constant racial unrest and injustice towards the Black community amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes across multiple sports reiterated on multiple national platforms that they are people — Black people and allies who are more than just objects for entertainment. This time, however, no fines or penalties were handed out. Leagues and many fans listened and supported the athletes as human beings who are not immune from what is going on in the world. What a difference time can make. “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the courts of WNBA and NBA games. Athletes are wearing patches, masks and shirts that have things like “Black Lives Matter” and “Vote” printed on them. Osaka wore a different mask each day she competed during the US Open. Athletes are kneeling. Leagues and the rest of the world are watching, listening and talking.

My previous articles have mentioned a key point about diversity, equity and inclusion: it is not enough to get diverse people into the space; they must be able to stay in the space, too. Why? What is so important? How do we do that? I propose that we look at team culture. Team culture, as many know, are the shared beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors the team embodies. As you read this, I encourage you to pause for a moment to think about a coach who has created and lives out a team culture you admire — in real life or in movies. Those examples we’ve seen and experienced often resonate on a deeper level with us (our values and beliefs) and influence our attitudes and behaviors when we go to be part of our own respective teams. Based on the good, strong team cultures we’ve seen examples of (or even been part of), we are better equipped to create positive, strong team cultures ourselves. However, there are times when the attitudes and behaviors of a culture do not accurately reflect the values and beliefs presumed to be upheld within a space.

I think an important question to ask about team culture is that once it is established, does the culture adjust based on the present team? Often, it is the attitudes and behaviors that must adjust accordingly so that the values and beliefs can truly be lived out in the team. For example, if a team’s value is honesty and a newer player shares a truth that is then met with backlash, the attitudes and behaviors may need adjusting to truly uphold the value of honesty. Teams can thrive that much more when the culture of the team can adjust and evolve based on the people there and not solely based on the system in place. When people know they belong and have support, successes happen (and I’m not referring to winning games and records).

Early last year, Medium shared a post about the Top 5 Workplace Diversity Statistics. The article basically shares that workplaces that are diverse have higher revenue, have more leaders in innovation, make better decisions, have higher job acceptance rates and outperform competitors when they are racially and ethnically diverse. Based on this, I do not advocate that we should be running a lacrosse team like a business. What I do suggest is that we pay attention to the data gathered from the business world to guide us in understanding why it matters so much to have a team culture that encourages diversity and is inviting for diverse populations to stay in those spaces. The five statistics here (and many others found from business statistics shared online) all communicate the same thing: diversity makes spaces better.

If I were to imagine some statistics for diversity for the sport of lacrosse, it would probably look something like this:

  1. Diverse lacrosse teams have higher retention rates of players and coaches.

  2. Diverse lacrosse teams collectively have more access and opportunities in life.

  3. Diverse lacrosse teams make better choices and have stronger team culture.

  4. Recruitment acceptance rates of players are higher in diverse lacrosse teams.

  5. Diverse lacrosse teams (of competition age) produce higher performing athletes than their competitors when they are racially and ethnically diverse.

There are many more statistics that I could imagine, but I think the point is there. Diversity matters. In general, diverse spaces are more appealing. The combination of different perspectives produces better results, and there is better engagement in those spaces. For that to continue, these spaces need to have a culture that must adjust at times to allow for these successes to take place. How do we do that? How do we adjust culture so that we have more diverse lacrosse teams? How do we maintain spaces so that diverse populations want to stay? I offer these suggestions: intentionally learn from those in the space, do the work and be accountable. See the humanity of each person, and do not push people into boxes.

When I was an educator, I also had the opportunity to mentor some of my students. At the time, my students were 14 years old and many of the female students were preparing for their Quinceañeras coming up within the year. Not growing up in the same culture or having friends that celebrated Quinceañeras, I had limited knowledge about the tradition. During my conversations with my students, I took time to ask them about the tradition, allowed them to teach me, did some learning on my own and followed up with them throughout the year as they got closer to their respective Quinceañeras. These conversations opened the door for them to learn about my family’s traditions while celebrating both traditions throughout the school year. None of us became experts on the others’ traditions nor did we celebrate the other’s traditions, but we did have several moments of intentional learning that allowed for us to comfortably share a space.

Accountability is key within any team because it requires doing the work you say that you’ll do. If someone commits to being anti-racist and shares with others that they will read certain books, then make sure the books are read. After you read the books, share that you’ve done so. When people see you doing the work, they are willing to do the work, too. The other part of accountability is to do your due diligence if/when something occurs and follow the policies set forth by your organization. If there are no policies or a code of conduct in place, create them and enforce them. It is challenging to make changes and hold people accountable to those changes if they are not already outlined. Once outlined, people know where they stand and what they will be accountable to.

My final two suggestions go hand-in-hand and are much more personal to me. With each article that I have written based on recent events, I worry about being berated and classified as the “angry Black woman” who only talks about “Black issues.” Will people forget that I have written other articles about Athlete Development and will have more to write as it relates to Athlete Development in the future? Will it matter that I have both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Education if people choose to tear down my reputation or challenge the words I have written? Could these articles limit future opportunities for building community and networks because I happen to be the one voicing things right now? I imagine that if I am asking these questions, Black voices and the allies who speak up may be facing similar questions. Will speaking up be at the expense of my humanity and put me in a box? While I do not put myself in the same category as professional athletes, I can share something similarly: we are people — we are more than the titles and statuses that we have.

No matter what my title is or what article I write, I am a Black woman every moment of each day. Whenever I enter a space, that is what people see — not my title, degrees or anything of my background — just that I am a Black woman. Still, I choose to speak up so that others who look like me know they can. I speak up even though I know that there could be backlash for doing so (even though I constantly just ask for respectful reading and listening). Thankfully, we are at a point in 2020 and I am part of a work culture at US Lacrosse that accepts my identity (and the societal challenges that come with it), treats me respectfully and gives me a platform to help the lacrosse community move forward in this time of racial unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a coach and/or program leader, part of the role includes the responsibility of establishing the culture and adjusting the culture (when needed) based on the current participants in the space. We can no longer continue to operate based on “the way it’s always been.” Professional athletes have shown us that and have shown us how we can take steps to create meaningful change (both small and big changes). If you are in a diverse region, do your best to have your team reflect the area (remember that we need opportunity + invitation + authentic relationships). From my personal experience, nothing encourages me more to be in a space than seeing someone who looks like me there, too. Why? Because seeing someone who looks like me shows me that I can do it, too. If you are in a region that is not as diverse, do your best to create a culture of active allies who know how to interact respectfully and with anti-deficit thinking when with people who are different from them. Even if I do not see someone who looks like me, I am still willing to be in a space if I know that people treat me the way I should be treated — with respect, anti-racist thinking and anti-deficit thinking.

Change and adjustments do not happen overnight, nor do they happen without missteps and growing pains; but it is worth it to make your team and our sport better. To me, these are some of the ways that we can get and maintain diversity in our lacrosse community. Even though this article has been through the lens of racial and ethnic diversity, my hope is that those reading also think of diversity in terms of ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, gender and the many other intersectional identities we hold as human beings. We know that diversity makes us better, and I encourage us to be willing to work through the discomfort to make the necessary changes to ensure that diversity increases and remains in the sport of lacrosse.

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