Credit former Syracuse lacrosse star Jovan Miller for being able to create a discussion about race, and making it an intelligent conversation. Miller was a fan favorite at SU, and one of the school’s most popular recent players. But he stepped out of the box and challenged people’s thinking. Obviously, it’s a charged subject. But it’s a conversation that’s needed following Warrior Lacrosse’s attempt at a new slogan charged with racial overtones they didn’t know existed. He spoke with The Fizz.
Last week Jovan went off on Twitter (@JoviNation23) and received national attention for calling out Warrior for their new “Ninja please” campaign. The reaction was predictably mixed. Some said he was just a black player playing the race card. But Jovan comes from an educated background (his father holds a masters degree), and he took his time in the classroom at Syracuse seriously. The mindless “playing the race card” theory couldn’t be further off.
“Because 98% of the lacrosse community is caucasian, they didn’t know it could be offensive. It was one of those things where I just wanted to draw light to it. Obviously I took a firm and bold stance on the subject, but if I didn’t come out and say it the way I said it and present myself in a certain way then it wouldn’t have been taken seriously.”
This wasn’t a knee jerk reaction by Miller. It was calculated and measured, and Miller realizes he’s a black player in a predominantly white sport. He estimates 98% of lacrosse is white.
What he saw in Warrior wasn’t malice but ignorance. He saw a table full of white people, who were marketing to white fans, come up with a slogan that capitalized on a racially charged phrase. That phrase is commonly used in the black community, but isn’t something others can freely toss around.
“These people are adults. No matter if they’re black, white, latino, they’ve probably seen blatently racial issues whether it be through verbal communication or physical mistreatment or whatever. I’m pretty sure everyone on that staff knows that we live in sensitive times when it comes to racial issues.”
The world we live in is complicated when it comes to open discussion about racial issues. But this wasn’t about Miller simply trying to lob grenades at the other side. He has major problems with some prevailing ideas in his own community.
“A black man saying the white man is always trying to hold him down is the most ignorant thing I’ve heard in my life.”
Jovan’s mission in calling out Warrior and asking for a boycott of their equipment was to specifically educate kids. He understands the stage he has in his sport, (specifically in the outdoor game, where he was a star at SU and Warrior is the league’s primary sponsor). He believes with that comes responsibility to create an understanding.
“I just wish we had more educational opportunities for these kids. We just have to be conscious of what we put out there because when they get older if no one ever tells them differently, that’s the difference of a kid getting into a fight and he has no idea of why a kid from another race is upset because nobody corrected them.”
Fighting the “angry black man” stereotype is new for Miller. In fact, he’s spent most of his life fighting for his identity within his own race. Jovan grew up in the suburbs and says the culture shock for him was when he would go to his all-black church. There, kids would tell him “he didn’t talk black,” that “he talked white.” As Jovan grew old enough to form his own thoughts and be aware of who he was, he started to push back. He didn’t talk “white,” he talked “proper.” He wasn’t afraid to be educated. He was proud of it, because having a college education is something to wear with pride.
Jovan is not an angry black man, because he’s not an angry man. He is thoughtful and calculated. He understands his place as a minority in a sport that is, for now, dominated by a caucasian group of players and coaches. He doesn’t feel any added pressure to be a minority ambassador of his sport, but does want kids to see it as an opportunity other than football or basketball. Watching a former player try to advance understanding and push forward discussion is something Orange fans should be proud of.
Check out Miller’s Twitter timeline. He’s retweeted some of the ugliest comments he’s received. The tricky part with race is that we’re not discussing a clearly drawn policy. We’re discussing how issues of race make people feel, and there’s no universal playbook for that. But to learn how someone feels, you must engage them in a respectful manner. Which is exactly what I did with Jovan Miller. And we both likely learned something. Imagine that.
Posted: Craig Hoffman