July/August edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, a digital-only publication available exclusively to US Lacrosse members.

"> Silent No More: A Racial Awakening for the Lacrosse Community | USA Lacrosse Magazine

Redwoods LC attackman Jules Heningburg jumpstarted the conversation about racism in lacrosse.

Silent No More: A Racial Awakening for the Lacrosse Community

This article appears in the July/August edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, a digital-only publication available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today for access to this 96-page edition, which includes immersive and interactive features as well as video tips from professional players. Thank you for your support!


s the attention surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects started to recede, a new national conversation emerged and reverberated throughout the lacrosse community.

It started on social media May 26 and caught on quickly with linear news and broadcast outlets throughout the world. George Floyd, a black man living in Minneapolis, was killed by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for several minutes while fellow officers and Floyd’s friends watched on. 

George Floyd’s death awoke a national dialogue concerning race and police brutality, one that has continued to gain traction in the past decade with the Black Lives Matter movement. Although the incident did not have a connection to lacrosse, the conversation applied to Americans from all walks of life.

Members of the lacrosse community began sharing their thoughts on police brutality, racism and what it means to be black in America. Jules Heningburg, the Rutgers graduate and Redwoods LC star, localized the issue by publishing an essay titled “Standing at a Crossroads” on Twitter.

In the essay, Heningburg details the story of his grandfather, Gus Heningburg Sr., a civil rights activist and community organizer in New Jersey during the 1960s and 1970s, and his father, Gus Heningburg Jr., who was the target of racial discrimination as a result of the elder Heningburg’s visibility. He also shed light on how it felt to be a biracial male in America and in the predominantly white sport of lacrosse.

“You are never white enough to be accepted by white people and never black enough to be accepted by black people, entirely,” he wrote. “That is the reality I dealt with my entire life.”

Heningburg’s piece went viral in the lacrosse community and even prompted Uninterrupted, the athlete empowerment brand founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter, to produce a video of him reading it aloud from his phone. Heningburg ignited an at-times uncomfortable discussion on racial inequity, both within the sport and in society as a whole.

Prominent figures in the sport — both white and black, male and female — started voicing their support for the ensuing protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. They paused for reflection and called for self-examination on Blackout Tuesday. They called for leadership and meaningful measures to make lacrosse more inclusive. 

“If my skin was a few shades darker, life would be much different.” — Jules Heningburg, Redwoods LC


Heningburg sat in the living room of his San Diego home May 26 at the end of the workday. He had seen chatter about George Floyd on social media but was preoccupied by the work he was doing as the founder of a lacrosse training company called Mission Primed.

Then he watched the nearly 10-minute video. He was appalled. He felt the need to say something. The next morning, Heningburg took to Twitter.

“Man... I finally watched #Georgefloyd’s video late last night,” he tweeted. “A lot of folks who dont know me personally, dont know im black. At first glance, maybe I dont look it... but my father was always so scared for us growing up because of what he dealt with, and what he knew existed. … Being black can not be a DEATH SENTENCE.”

Heningburg, who has a white mother and black father, felt connected to the events surrounding Floyd’s homicide. His father had taught him about racism in America when he was a young boy, but he had never seen it so clearly.

Heningburg remembered when he was 14, hearing about the death of Trayvon Martin, who looked similar to him. His father’s words continued ringing through his head as he heard about the death of Ahmaud Arbery earlier in the spring.

The killing of Floyd was the moment he felt compelled to tell his story. He sat down to type out his first draft the next day — an emotional essay that took just over 30 minutes to compose. He sent the essay to his sister, Chiara, to edit and asked his father for feedback. He also has four brothers, Dylan, Adrian, Matt and Chris.

By May 29, Heningburg was ready to share “Standing at a Crossroads” with the lacrosse community and beyond.In the essay, Heningburg detailed his family’s history with fighting racial injustice and the lessons that were instilled in him at a young age. Growing up as a biracial boy playing lacrosse, he had his own struggles with identity.

At times, Heningburg didn’t fully identify with the black community. Other times, he wanted to be a voice for his black friends. He recognized that his lighter skin offered him a certain privilege.

“George Floyd could have been one of my brothers, my dad, a black friend or teammate,” he wrote. “It breaks my heart to also recognize it very likely would never be me. If my skin was a few shades darker, life would be much different.”

To close his piece, Heningburg touched on the demographical issues that this sport still faces. He challenged his friends and family to speak up and continue discussing what they can do to help America move forward.

Heningburg’s prose opened the door for other people of color in lacrosse to share their stories. Some of the biggest names in the sport came forward to talk about the death of George Floyd and share their own struggles with or perceptions of race in America.

Perhaps most notably, U.S. team and Atlas LC faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste offered a detailed account of a time he said he was harassed by a police officer as a high school kid in New Jersey.

Baptiste and his friends were approached by a police officer in a park near his home in Denville. The officer pinned Baptiste up against his car and started rummaging through his pockets, he said.

“You got anything you can stab me with?” Baptiste recalled him saying.

The officer threatened to throw him to the pavement if he moved, Baptiste said. After a while, he said he was moved to the police car, where he requested to call his parents — a moment when Baptiste believes the cop realized he had gone too far.

Baptiste, who went on to star at the University of Denver, was eventually released from the custody of the officer, but the memory lives on vividly in his mind.

“What I felt like, because of how I looked, I was guilty to him until I was proven innocent,” he said. “The only thing that got me out of it was, ‘Can I call my parents?’”

Tariro Kandemiri, a US Lacrosse Sankofa clinician and former Sewanee women’s lacrosse player also known as Official Lax Girl on social media, authored a first-person account of the origins of her Twitter handle and how the lacrosse world accepted a 15-year-old immigrant from Zimbabwe.

Kandemiri later took part in protests after Rayshard Brooks was killed by police in Atlanta. Some fans commented that her posts sounded melancholy, a departure from her upbeat social media persona.

“I’m sad that I worry about driving around my city because if there is a misunderstanding, the first thing someone will see is that I am a black woman and they will make assumptions about me,” she wrote in an Inside Lacrosse post entitled “Representation.”

“Someone can decide that I am a suspicious person and follow me, which has happened to me before in stores,” Kandemiri continued. “But that may turn fatal, especially if I try to defend myself.”


Asher Nolting doesn’t describe himself as outspoken. He’d say he’s far from that title.

Nolting watched the events unfold surrounding George Floyd’s death and couldn’t shake the fear — one that permeated beyond just the video and just this event. The fear he felt is not unlike that of many people of color in America.

It could have been him.

That’s when Nolting, a Colorado native and All-American attackman at High Point, knew he needed to make his voice heard.

“This was the last straw for a lot of people,” he said. “It sparked this whole movement. Normally, I’m not one to put my thoughts out like this. This time was one of those times where I needed to speak up and talk about this stuff.”

Nolting went public June 2, inspired by Heningburg’s story nights before. He described his upbringing with a black father and white mother in Greenwood Village. He had a difficult time figuring out his identity when he was a child, playing predominantly white sports in golf and lacrosse, but feeling equally as proud of being black.

Nolting seldom faced any overt racism, he said. But he couldn’t ignore what he continued seeing on the news and social media. He still hopes for a sport — and country — that can accept people for their differences. He also gave credit to his High Point teammates who allow him to feel comfortable in his own skin.

“I want to believe that we are going to create a better world for our kids and grandkids and for many generations,” he said. “My teammates don’t see me as a black teammate. I’m just a teammate. They know I’m African American and that I have pride in that. But they see me as Asher.”

Nolting was one of many lacrosse players, from all walks of life, to speak up for the first time on the subject of racism in the sport. Premier Lacrose League, Major League Lacrosse, National Lacrosse League and Women’s Professional Lacrosse League stars, college players and coaches and plenty that came before them all stepped up to voice their support for the black community.

Kris Alleyne, a goalie for MLL’s Connecticut Hammerheads who played with Heningburg at Rutgers, told the story of his family’s move from Guyana to New York decades ago. Alleyne’s mother, Karen, helped raise him and his brothers and provide each with a chance to go to college.

Alleyne was one of multiple black players on the Scarlet Knights, which helped shatter any of his preconceived notions about lacrosse being a sport for just whites.

“Everyone thinks of lacrosse like the ‘American Pie’ representation — the affluent white guys wearing Vineyard Vines. That’s not the case,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing that this sport can be as inclusive as it wants to be.”

Brent Adams, a midfielder for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Redwoods LC, sent a thread of tweets denouncing violent protests that came after George Floyd’s death, but praising the peaceful demonstrations aimed at change.

A son of a black father and white mother, Adams, who played lacrosse at Fairfield, said he has not experienced racial taunts during his career but understood that it was present both in the sport and outside of it. He offered advice for those in the lacrosse community hoping to change the sport’s image.

“Just really showing that we are inclusive and that there are all walks of life playing lacrosse,” he said. “If you don’t have certain convictions at this point, just show that you are supportive of every human being.”

Gina Oliver Thomas was the last black player to compete for the U.S. team. She retired in 2013.


Black lacrosse players were not the only ones to join the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of their white teammates and colleagues issued statements on Twitter and Instagram in support of their peers and the protests.

Scott Ratliff of the PLL’s Archers LC and Kayla Treanor of the WPLL Fight and U.S. women’s national team vocalized their support and encouraged the lacrosse community to keep talking.

Ratliff sent out a thread of 10 tweets June 5, crediting Heningburg and Baptiste with motivating him to speak up. He shared the story of when he was first introduced to racism in the seventh grade. He and his Atlanta youth basketball team, which was predominantly black, were told to leave a pool during a tournament in Tampa, Fla., because of the color of his teammates’ skin. US Lacrosse Magazine followed up with Ratliff about why he decided to share his story.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been a time in my life where a pure awareness of racism and bias in our country, and specifically, police brutality towards black people, has been higher,” Ratliff said. “Awareness is part of the solution, but it’s definitely not the solution. The bias is so deeply ingrained, it takes more than one week or one incident. It has to be a stepping stone. It’s not the top of the hill. Frankly, it’s the first step of the hill.”

Treanor was particularly active in the U.S. women’s national team’s collaboration on a statement issued by the players and coaches following Floyd’s death.

“We spent time on a Zoom call one night and talked about our statement and kind of just going through, literally, every single line and what we’re saying,” Treanor said. “It was a really cool experience, actually. In many ways, I’ve never felt so close to my U.S. teammates before. There were tears shed and experiences shared, and people were very vulnerable.”

Treanor, the former Syracuse star and current assistant coach at Boston College, noted the lack of diversity in women’s lacrosse, especially at the elite level. Gina Oliver Thomas was the last black player to compete for the U.S. team. She retired in 2013.

Thomas, the head coach at Cincinnati, told the story of her upbringing in a low income neighborhood in Pottstown, Pa. She too had an identity crisis because of her role in a predominantly white sport.

“I had defense mechanisms on both sides,” said Thomas, who starred at Ohio State and won world championships with Team USA in 2009 and 2013. “I had my black friends and family that were like, ‘You’re white. You play a white sport and you act white.’ Then, you have the other side of it, where you’re around a lot of white people that don’t understand black culture, so you’re defending that and educating them.”

Both Thomas and her former teammate Kristen Carr, a current U.S. national team player and assistant coach at Ohio State, encouraged educating players and coaches about black history.

“We have the choice to learn, and it’s up to us to make that choice to learn,” said Carr, who is white. “Whether it’s through books or podcasts or learning about the history of America, which absolutely includes black lives and African-American history.”

Kyle Hartzell, the U.S. national team veteran, sat down with Atlas LC teammate Pat Young on June 5 to have a candid conversation about what they can do to help make this game more inclusive. In the 45-minute Zoom chat facilitated by US Lacrosse Magazine, Hartzell, a Dundalk, Md., native, revealed that he had never talked about race with a black teammate. “I’ve seen [racism] and I’ve heard it and I didn’t speak up about it,” he said. “It’s taken me so long to do it. I’m trying to make good on it now. I’m going to continue to do this as long as I live.”

Eboni Preston Laurent, the senior manager of diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse and a former standout goalie at St. Bonaventure, said that it’s important for white people to be allies in the movement, but “not at the expense of drowning out the black narrative.” She cited the example of Reddit co-founder and Serena Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian, who stepped down from his board position and requested his vacancy be filled with a person of color.

“He understood the magnitude of representation and the importance of having people of color at the table,” Preston Laurent said.

The deaths of Arbery, Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police have reignited a generations-old discourse on race relations in the United States and the root evil of slavery. Within the lacrosse community, more voices added to the momentum created by the black leaders in the sport. What was once fear and anxiety has gradually shifted to cautious optimism about what lacrosse, and this country, can accomplish.

“We have the generation right now that is committed to making change,” said Kyle Harrison, the two-time U.S. team standout and Redwoods LC midfielder whose father, Dr. Miles Harrison, was a member of the famed Ten Bears at historically black Morgan State University in the 1970s. “That’s not only the black players. We have white players willing to speak out on issues. I remain optimistic about our game, but I still get email and DMs weekly from black families across the country whose son or daughter has been called the N-bomb or the coach made a joke about hanging a kid. I still remain optimistic with the group that we have right now.”