I was a student at Old Dominion College during the years 1968-70. This was an amazing period in the history of the United States. Protest actions in different areas developed into movements that would bring huge changes to American society.
On June 27, 1969, the day of Judy Garland’s funeral, a large group of gay men resisted arrest during a police raid on The Stonewall Inn in New York City and touched off the Stonewall Riots. A seminal moment in the gay rights movement.
On March 7, 1965, Martin Luther King led a group of 600 marchers from Selma to Montgomery in support of the the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Before they could make their way out of Selma, they were beaten and gassed by police.
In between acid trips and Jimi Hendrix concerts we were also marching in support of civil rights, but in a safe harbor. We were mostly white in a mostly white college. We weren’t subject to fire hoses, police dogs, and bombs. In a testament to the racism at the time, people were shocked by the Kent State killings and horrified, but not necessarily surprised, by the treatment of African-Americans carrying out the same protests.
While I was watching the semifinals of the 2005 NCAA Division I lacrosse championships, I learned that lacrosse played a role in the civil rights movement.
Unlike tennis which started out as an upper class sport and is still an upper class sport, lacrosse was originally played by Native Americans. You know what happened to Native Americans. What happened to lacrosse? By the 1960’s, it was played almost exclusively at prep schools and elite east coast colleges. It was a white sport played by rich white kids.
There were exceptions. Jim Brown, the great Cleveland Browns running back, played at Syracuse in the 1950’s. Some consider him the best lacrosse player to ever play the game. There was also a team at Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Maryland – a hotbed of lacrosse. That is where Miles Harrison, Jr. took up the game. He went on to attend the predominantly black school Morgan State College and it was there in 1970 that he started a lacrosse team. Their coach was a white Jewish administrator at the school, Chip Silverman.
They picked up their sticks, ignored the “nigger” comments and took great joy in pushing the rich white boys all over the field.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had already been murdered. John Carlos and Tommie Smith had already raised their black gloved hands in protest on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics. The least these players could do was go out and represent their fellow students and athletes by playing out the same struggle for recognition on the lacrosse field.
Lacrosse is not a tame sport, it’s a full contact sport. Players wear helmets and padding. Some of the Morgan State players were football players who’d never played the game before. They picked up their sticks, ignored the “nigger” comments and took great joy in pushing the rich white boys all over the field. They felt even greater joy in defeating Washington and Lee, the Virginia school named after the Confederate leader, which was the top team in the nation at the time. How sweet was that for a black man in the 70’s?
What is the legacy of this team of football players and lacrosse players with a coach who’d never coached lacrosse before? Kyle Harrison led Johns Hopkins to an undefeated season and their first NCAA championship in eighteen years. He is the 2005 NCAA lacrosse player of the year. Kyle is the son of Miles Harrison. John Christmas, an all-star player at Virginia, and Towson midfielder Oliver Bacon are also sons of men coached by Silverman.
Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the country. It has spread from the east coast across the country to the west coast and, finally, there are top African American players at the high school and college level.