DULUTH, GA — Inside the Infinite Energy Center last Saturday, a beautiful night dedicated to celebrating the original people that inhabited this country was taking place, as the Georgia Swarm hosted the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League on Native Heritage Night.
There was a pregame Q&A event that featured some of the Swarm’s Native players, and hundreds of fans got to interact with them. There was also a special ceremony at halftime, followed by an autograph session after the game that included a long line of people of all ages and races waiting to get a picture or their jersey signed.
However, about an hour before the game that brought just under 8,000 people out on a chilly Saturday night in Georgia, President Trump decided to, yet again, mock Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American heritage in a controversial tweet that took a shot at the Presidential candidate, while also making reference to the Trail of Tears: the event in which the American government singlehandedly tried to obliterate Native Americans by forcibly removing them from their own land.
“Today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for President. Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!” tweeted the President.
Given the timing of everything that was happening on that night, Trump’s words were excessively disgusting.
But don’t take it from me — take it from someone who was on the receiving end of the President’s attack.
“For us as Natives, racism is a much different thing. Because it’s a fight to make us unknown, and we’re pretty close to unknown. A lot of people don’t know we exist,” Lyle Thompson of the Georgia Swarm told the Daily News.
“He’s continuing to say that we don’t exist and that we were gone when the Trail of Tears happened.”
Thompson is leading the league in goals (28) and is a candidate to win MVP. He has the Swarm (7-3) tied for the best start in franchise history. Thompson isn’t just one of the best lacrosse players in the world, either. He’s more than an athlete and has used his platform to speak out, especially when it deals with situations that affect his people. In the past, he’s addressed the Dakota Access Pipeline and the offensive logos and mascots in sports, like Washington’s NFL team and the Cleveland Indians.
However, those instances were examples of Thompson weighing in on stories as opposed to him actually becoming one, which is what happened last month in Philadelphia.
Shawny Hill, the former public address announcer for the Philadelphia Wings, was fired after directing racial taunts toward Thompson during a game as he told the crowd, “Let’s snip the ponytail!”
Things got even worse after the game when Thompson revealed on Twitter that fans behind their bench yelled that they would “scalp” him.
“In this game of lacrosse, we’re supposed to go out there with a clear mind and not let anything bother us. It affected us, and I feel like what we did, and what Lyle did after by speaking up about it was the right thing to do. Because people are unaware of what people go through,” Lyle’s brother, Miles Thompson, told the Daily News.
If you ask any person of color what it feels like to be on the receiving end of racist taunts or threats, he or she may find it hard to describe. The only people that can ever understand it are the ones who have dealt with it.
“It’s something you can’t explain unless you experience it. For the white privileged, I can’t explain it to them. All I can tell them is that I cried, my brothers cried, and our team owners cried while they hugged me. It was emotional,” said Lyle.
In the past, Thompson told me that he would brush microaggressions and incidents like this off and try to act like it wasn’t a big deal. He doesn’t do that anymore.
“I’m learning that I have to make it a deal and make it known to people that this stuff still happens,” he explained. “Because a lot of people aren’t aware of it.”
Despite the President’s words and the loss, the Swarm fell 19-9 to the Bandits, Saturday was still a special night for Thompson, his brothers, and most importantly, his people.
“They’re positive role models for all of Native America,” said Mike Crowe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
When the Thompson brothers came out of an elevator after the game to take their seats to sign autographs, they were met with a rousing ovation from all the fans eagerly awaiting their arrival.
“It’s honestly hard to handle. To kind of look at a kid and really see how much I impact him or her,” said Thompson about the responsibilities that come with being a role model.
“But every once and a while you get a message or a social media post or something that just inspires you.”
And as more athletes across the sports world are giving back to their communities and using their platforms to speak up about social issues, it can be easy to focus on those that play in the major sports like football, basketball, and baseball.