Update: After Andrew wrote this, Warrior Sports apologized and pulled the campaign.
Jovan Miller, a 2011 Syracuse All American Lacrosse graduate, has found himself in the middle of a very complicated and controversial standoff with one of the corporate giants of the Lax world.
Warrior, an equipment company that is a huge backer of the MLL, has created a new marketing campaign around the phrase "Ninja Please." At first this sounds pretty innocent until you Urban Dictionary this phrase and see what the slang stands for.
In a stance against the company's campaign, Miller is giving away all of his Warrior gear and threatening to retire from the MLL (who Warrior outfits) unless the campaign ends. The backlash has generated a lot of hateful responses that Miller continues to retweet. (Warning, this is where the language is about to start.)
I'm just a 20 year old college student so I know for a fact that many people will read what I say here and write me off for a variety of reasons. But I feel very strongly about the situation Jovan Miller is going through because I identify with his plight.
I am a Hispanic by blood but because of adoption, I was lucky enough to be raised by a family with enough resources to send me to very good schools and ultimately Syracuse University. I can't speak Spanish and I barely know anything about the Mexican culture. Yet on every form, I am still defined as a Hispanic even though I am definitely a stereotypical white male.
In a nation once so divided, the treatment of minorities such as African Americans and Hispanics has been brought to light. We truly have moved forward with an African American President and high diversity numbers in the work place and schools.
But yet, racial tensions still persist. Jovan Miller has shown that.
The Lacrosse world is dominated by rich white males who attend prep schools and lack that diversity I mention above. Of course the largest Lacrosse supplier would market their company to seem cool to this niche, but there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this phrase crossed a line. The backlash that Miller is trying to make public is absolutely deplorable for 21st century America.
However, the reasons for Warrior decided to use the phrase are where the real racial tensions exist.
There exists a double standard in popular culture when it comes to who can say what about specific races. It is sickening to see the word "Nigger" used like this but yet it's a Billboard top song when used like this. Likewise, I would take immense offense to anyone who described me as a "beaner" or "wetback" but yet I am guilty of using these terms when making jokes about myself in high school.
So here in lies the controversy with Warrior's campaign: does it toe or even cross the racial line? Of course. But it never uses the work "cracker" or "jap" or "nigger." Furthermore, Warrior was playing into this socially accepted double standard: making a derogatory white joke to a white crowd.
All and all, we see that once again, sports are tackling our country's racial issues far before society does. It was Jackie Robinson who played 20 years before the civil rights movement. It was Texas Western and the Pittsburgh Pirates who led out all black lineups in the late 60's and early 70's.
Once again, we are witnessing sports and racial tensions mix to begin a much deeper discussion on where our country is moving.
I'd like to think that Miller is not only standing up for African Americans with this statement. Native Americans, also a very marginalized group in our country's history, created the game of Lacrosse and are prominent in Syracuse as opposed to other Lacrosse hotbeds. He's put himself in the center of a racial battle I din't think we'd still have in 2012.
But nothing is perfect.
I'm not calling every Syracuse fan to stand with Jovan here because quite honestly, you can disagree with his approach to this perceived problem. I am asking that we all are aware of what a fellow member of the Syracuse family is going through in his stance for the development of a better culture. We can all use this as a teaching tool in our lives.
I do stand with Jovan and wish him good fortunes. Things won't get any easier for him anymore. But maybe things can for our culture because of this.