I’m not quite sure how this conversation begins. So I’m just going to let the words come and write unplugged.

I’m angered that some of you still don’t care to understand why so many black Americans and people of color feel the way they do, I’m frustrated that the looting and rioting has taken away from the real message, and I’m not surprised that some are using the looting and rioting to pivot away from the original intent of the protest.

This is a lacrosse column, and I fully understand the limited capacity and capability of this space. I don’t expect the sport of lacrosse to be any kind of arbiter of social change or an agent of social justice. I’m optimistic by nature but not naïve.

This is a sport that has fought a losing battle with racial matters and diversity for some time.

There was the near-boycott at Syracuse in 2013, the Virginia Tech episode and Catholics vs. Convicts in 2018, the questionable suspension of a Florida high school player and anti-Native American remarks hurled at Lyle Thompson in 2019 and most recently the altercation at Amherst that prompted the university to fire its coach and put the team on probation.

But there’s a lesson here. See, lacrosse only goes mainstream when these types of headlines surface. Harlem Lacrosse, Bronx Lacrosse and a number of other organizations do tremendous work in changing the perception of the sport. But charitable work doesn’t lead to saucy headlines or page clicks.

To the rest of the sports world and to everyone outside of the lax bubble, lacrosse is largely defined by its village idiots. A blanket stereotype painting the sport as white, entitled, privileged and tone-deaf wraps neatly into the prevailing zeitgeist as a one-size-fits all package devoid entirely of nuance.

While it’s annoying to constantly answer for your village idiot, it’s inherently unfair that said idiot gets to be your flag bearer. Wasn’t the village idiot branded as such for that very reason? Someone wisely decided long ago that the idiot needed to be singled out so no one would confuse the idiot for the group at large.

But if you’re a person of color, you are always defined by your village idiot. And unlike lacrosse players, our skin is our uniform. We don’t get to take it off. Ever.

Black, brown, any color. Any action deemed unacceptable becomes representative of the group at large. It’s a stigma that applies to almost every ethnic group in America except one.

Our brain sorts and groups as a matter of convenience. It requires less brain power to paint with broad brush strokes, but maybe we should require our neurons to put in a little extra time in manners of humanity. When you group people, you strip them of their individuality. They become more than just a stereotype or a caricature. They become harder to identify with and easier to hate. They become less human.

Now let’s return to our bubble. Think of the way we stereotype and group people within the sport of lacrosse.

If a white player gets into trouble, the player doesn’t represent anyone other than themselves. It becomes an indictment on the individual and the individual alone. If it’s a player of color, the actions become representative of an entire group.

I cringed when Virginia won the NCAA championship in 2011 — not because the team wasn’t deserving, but because of the narrative that would predictably take hold. Shamel and Rhamel Bratton, Virginia’s talented twin black midfielders, had been kicked off the team during the regular season. The offense shifted from a midfield-oriented attack to one that began at X with Steele Stanwick. The team took off. Stanwick was sensational down the stretch, winning the Tewaaraton Award, and the Hoos celebrated on Memorial Day.

The Brattons had already been suspended multiple times that season. Virginia carefully monitored its image and implemented strict disciplinary policies in the wake of Yeardley Love’s death at the hands of George Hugely the previous year. The Brattons’ dismissal was warranted, but imagine if UVA had won a title with two black brothers playing prominent roles. It would have created a new perception of the sport and broken down some of those blanket stereotypes.

Nonetheless, the whispers were audible in the post-championship afterglow.

All they had to do was kick off the two black players.

I’ve had multiple coaches tell me, “You can only have one or two Natives on a team,” or it somehow perverts the team culture. Then Albany came along in 2018 and reached championship weekend on the strength of a number of Native American players and a head coach (Scott Marr) who took the time to learn, understand and embrace the fact that some players are different than others. Albany also understood that not all Native Americans are the same either.

As a person of color involved in lacrosse, it’s been difficult at times to speak candidly on issues of diversity and race, Shroff writes.

Before we exit the bubble, let’s take the time to acknowledge so many in the sport who have spoken up in the last week. Not just Kyle Harrison or Trevor Baptiste or those of color, but a number of white players and coaches too. We appreciate you shouting and standing with us. We look forward to watching you in action and being an agent of change. We need you to call things out. Progress doesn’t happen without you.

As a person of color involved in lacrosse, it’s been difficult at times to speak candidly on issues of diversity and race. I’ll admit, I haven’t said enough or done enough. At times when I have spoken or written about it, I’ve worried it would impact or compromise my position in the sport. I justified it as an act of self-preservation, but looking back, it feels selfish.

There’s a fear that comes with being an “other.” We recognize that no one in the power structure looks like us and that often means they don’t understand us and our points of view. We are made to realize that our acceptance, survival and success in the world depends on suffering some of the silent slings and arrows of racism and discrimination.

We have to be careful how we navigate the waters as an “other.” Be black, but not too black so that you make those around you uncomfortable. Be brown, but don’t remind us that you’re brown and that you have an ethnic name. Be a Native American, but try to check a few of your customs at the door before entering.

We want to fit in, but does that mean we sacrifice some values along the way? We want to speak up, but is it worth risking our livelihood and passion? So, we appease. We massage our message so others won’t feel uncomfortable. We find gentler ways to say it or we just don’t hit send.

But that didn’t work either. In 2014, I had some racial slurs hurled at me while covering championship weekend. I thought then about tweeting or sharing what happened, but I didn’t have any video and I thought about what it would mean for the sport at large to put that story out on the biggest weekend of the year. So, I said nothing and carried on.

I had a coach once ask pointedly how “someone like me” got into lacrosse. Did he mean someone who never played the game or something more? Then I realized, if he wanted to know if I played lacrosse, he would have asked me that. But I let it go. I didn’t want to upset the apple cart. I’ve seen social media attacks laced with racism more times than I can count. It never stuns me if a tweet opining about sports is met by hate or racism instead of civil dissent.

You can drive yourself insane taking offense at all comers, but it’s foolish to dismiss what lies on and beneath the surface entirely. It’s time to acknowledge that persons of color have traversed a different path. Rich, poor, or in the middle – we’ve all been reduced to the color of our skin at some point. We’ve also been told to stay silent too long.

I fully expect mandates of silence whenever this article gets published.

If you don’t like it, get out. Leave. We don’t want you.

Well, tough s—. There may not be many of us persons of color in lacrosse. But we do exist. None of us are leaving. Being treated like equals is our basic human right. As uncomfortable as the conversation may make you, it doesn’t compare to some of our experiences.

You can love your parents, but similarly can admit they have faults. We can love our country and still demand better treatment for black Americans and minorities. I don’t expect lacrosse to change overnight and cater to people of color tomorrow or immediately understand that our journey is radically different because of skin tone.

But the time of silence has passed. The volume is up. We are no longer afraid of speaking up on these matters. You may not want to hear it. But you can no longer ignore it. We’ll keep talking until the message is heard. We’ll keep pushing forward. Some will inevitably stay behind. I hope most will march ahead.

Perhaps one day, we will make things better.

This Piece was originally posted on US Lacrosse Magazine.