Georgia's Lyle Thompson, a proud Native American, shaken by racist taunts

Mohegan — Lyle Thompson of the Georgia Swarm was conducting an interview with National Lacrosse League analyst Brian Shanahan this week and Shanahan asked him what would otherwise have been an easy question. What does lacrosse mean to him?

"Lacrosse has been a part of my life my whole life," said Thompson, 26, who is from Onondaga Nation, N.Y., and has competed for the Iroquois national indoor lacrosse team. "It's a part of who we are as native people because it's a traditional game and, for us, we use the game as medicine for ourselves and for our community.

"That's what it's been for me my whole life and my plan is to pass that along to the next generation and hope it could be a vehicle for those kids like it was for me."

Translation: It couldn't mean more to him.

Therefore, Thompson, who wears a trademark ponytail, was shaken last week during a game against the Philadelphia Wings when Wells Fargo Center public address announcer Shawny Hill attempted to fire up the Philly crowd by using the words, "Let's snip the ponytail."

Thompson heard some nearby fans also shout that they were going to "scalp" him.

Hill was later fired by the Wings and suspended from working future games at the Wells Fargo Center.

"2019 and the @NLLwings arena announcer saying 'let's snip the pony tail' to the whole arena and fans saying they're going to scalp me ... damn Daniel," Thompson wrote on Twitter.

Later, he added: "I know Philly takes pride in their ruthless fans but I didn't know it was like that lol ... now I know ... just haven't heard stuff like this since HS."

Thompson and the Swarm, including Thompson's older brothers Miles and Jerome, played Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, where the New England Black Wolves celebrated their fifth anniversary season with a 13-12 win over Georgia.

Wolves coach Glenn Clark said he believes all of lacrosse was shaken by the taunts toward the Thompsons, who are generally considered among the most widely known diplomats in the game, running free camps for native children.

"We all were impacted," Clark said prior to Saturday's game. "Everybody involved in lacrosse ... to know that level of ignorance still exists."

Clark called the Thompsons "very cerebral and very professional and very grounded."

"They're class guys, really good ambassadors for the game," Clark said. "The way (Lyle) conducts himself, the way he promotes the game ... I'm not surprised one bit at the way he's handled himself. His process is more about education ... continuing to educate people across the game and across society."

"I'm probably 10 years older than him, but I learn a lot from him," New England's Callum Crawford said of Lyle Thompson. "Not just about lacrosse, but about being a quality human being. I watch and learn how I can be a better man. That guy's a special, special human being."

Thompson, selected first overall by Georgia in the 2015 draft, holds the record for most career points in Division I college lacrosse with 400 and the most career assists with 225, playing for the University of Albany.

He was the 2017 NLL MVP and led the Swarm with 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points headed into Saturday's game.

Thompson wrote on Twitter: "First off, I want to thank all of my fans and the lacrosse community for all the love and support. I've experienced this before and I've always just let it go, forget about it, tell myself it's not a big deal. ... But I've decided that this is my chance to use my platform and let everyone know how I truly feel.

"... The ignorance of people in my life has taught me a lot and has given me thicker skin and taught me what not to be. To be patient and respectful. My main focus and concern is the young, brown-skinned long-haired boys and girls behind me. My daughters and my baby boy. I don't want to look back and regret what I didn't say/do, so I challenge everyone reading this to talk with whoever is in your household. Tell them that native people still exist. Tell them we have our own languages, music, cultures and traditions.

"But also tell them that we are professional athletes, teachers, doctors and leaders. And have a conversation about racism, compassion, empathy and respect. ... I need to do more. Make more changes. The pain of this incident has pointed me in a direction I must go."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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