PHOTOS BY MIKE WATTERS

Josh Hughes, Gabe Clark and Trey Bradford were the subjects of racial taunts on the lacrosse field last summer — an episode that inspired the We Stand initiative.

Truer Words: How the True Lacrosse Trio Became Catalysts for Change


Trey Bradford, Gabe Clark and Josh Hughes will never forget the events that unfolded at a tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., last July. They were teammates for True Lacrosse, competing in one of the first summer club lacrosse tournaments after the COVID-19 shutdown.

As Black lacrosse players, each of the three teammates was used to feeling like the only. Bradford, Clark and Hughes had bonded together through a shared experience in lacrosse.

On July 26, 2020, they became even closer. At the end of a hotly contested game, opponents taunted them with the N-word and told them to “go back to Africa.” The episode gained national notoriety when Premier Lacrosse League star Kyle Harrison tweeted a screenshot of a text message he received with those disturbing details.

Ten months later, Bradford, Clark and Hughes still feel the sting of those words. But they also have felt the support of the national lacrosse community. We Stand — a collaboration by the Black Lacrosse Alliance, the Nation United Foundation and US Lacrosse to curb discrimination and racism in the sport — owes its origin to the True Lacrosse trio.

US Lacrosse Magazine spoke to Bradford, Clark and Hughes — each an aspiring college lacrosse player with a unique story — about their experiences in the sport and what transpired that day outside Orlando.

BACKGROUND

GABE CLARK: I'm a senior. I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida. My lacrosse career basically started after I watched some of Chazz Woodson’s highlights. I saw him do some insane stuff and I was immediately hooked. From there, I started in the second grade and I've been playing ever since. The funny thing about that is he's one of my coaches now. I play for Nation United and I played for True Lacrosse, also played with Sweet Lax Florida at one point. I go to Winter Park High School. Originally, I was up at Creekside, which is up in Jacksonville. I moved from Orlando to Jacksonville because my dad had a stroke and he had a better job opportunity up there. Life turned around and my sister offered him a position down in Orlando again. I just moved back here the summer before last summer. I've been here for about two years now again.

JOSH HUGHES: I'm born and raised here in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is about 20 minutes outside of Tampa on the water. I go to St. Petersburg Catholic High School, class of 2022. I've been playing midfield and some attack pretty much my whole career. I started playing in fifth grade with our local club team. I played for Team 18, which is run by Kyle Harrison. Now I play for Nation United.

TREY BRADFORD: I was born in Berkeley, California, but then I moved to Florida. I've been living in Florida pretty much my whole life. I grew up in Palm Bay, Florida, and then I moved with my parents to Tampa when I was going into the seventh grade. My eighth-grade year is when I got a stick in my hand to play lacrosse. I used to play middie, but sophomore year, my coach switched me to a pole and that's where my lacrosse career took off.

WHAT GOT YOU INTO LACROSSE?

GABE CLARK: I got into it because I was super hyper. I was always moving and my mom needed something for me to do to stop moving. She introduced me to lacrosse and then I looked it up and, of course, I saw Chazz. The first play I saw was when he went around the crease and dumped it in over the goal. I was like, “Bro, I want to do that so bad.” I got signed up with a local club team in my area and I've been playing ever since.

JOSH HUGHES: The biggest thing that got me interested in lacrosse was Kyle Harrison. I watched one of his highlight tapes. They used to have a big prep school tournament across from my house, and I used to go over and watch and say, “What is this?” I looked up lacrosse and the first thing that popped up was Kyle Harrison. I’ve been playing ever since and wanted to be like Kyle and Chazz and Myles Jones. They are my lacrosse influencers. I later learned about Jim Brown and people like that. What kept me in the game was learning about people that came before me and played the game and wanted to do something different. In my freshman year when I met Kyle Harrison for the first time, I was going through a tough time in the game and thinking about quitting. He saw something in me at the camp and it sparked a fire in me.

TREY BRADFORD: My little brother used to play/ I would go to his games and I was like, “What is going on?” I would have coaches tell me I should play because they're trying to grow the sport. My parents finally said, “You know what? You should just try it.” When I first picked up a stick and threw the ball in the cradle, I knew there was so much to learn. Once you get good at cradling and passing, do that with your off hand. Don’t even get me started on the rules. I played one or two games and I got the hang of it, then that's where it kind of just took off for me.


"When I met Kyle Harrison, I was going through a tough time in the game and thinking about quitting. He saw something in me. It sparked a fire." — Josh Hughes


HOW DOES THE GAME MAKE YOU FEEL?

GABE CLARK: Lacrosse for me has always been an outlet — whether my day was stressful or fun, it has always added positivity to my day. Over the years, I realized it has become a part of me almost. It’s like home almost. I grew to understand the influence people have on the game. Learning about people of my skin color that also played the game like Chazz, and then learning about Kyle Harrison, it sparks something. I want to strive to be like them. If they can do it, I can do it.

JOSH HUGHES: It was something to get my mind off of whatever else was happening. I was a pretty hyper kid, too. Lacrosse is still is a big outlet for me just to decompress, especially after a long day, I can go in the backyard and just shoot it. During games, it's a big release for me to get my mind off whatever else is going on. Now that I've gotten older, I take it a lot more seriously because I know I could one day be an influence on someone else's life.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE BLACK ROLE MODELS IN LACROSSE?

GABE CLARK: It took a lot to interest me as a kid. That one play by Chazz was so flashy. I don't know how if I would have been as hooked if I didn't see that. I think it helps a lot, seeing people explain struggles and then keep going about their business and doing great things continuously. Having those individuals be a leader for the people behind them, those people behind them end up following in their footsteps and then they become people who do big things.

JOSH HUGHES: I probably wouldn't have played lacrosse. I probably would've played something else. Knowing that somebody came before me and achieved the goals I want to achieve is really important. Without them, it's hard to see yourself in that role. It gives you added motivation to be good at something because you know it's possible.

TREY BRADFORD: I didn't take lacrosse seriously until about the end of my sophomore year. That's when I realized I might be able to go somewhere with this. When I took initiative with my parents, I said, “Let me just start watching college games.” My favorite guy to watch was Myles Jones because although he's 6-foot-4 and definitely has more muscle than I, it was just fun to watch him. He was someone that I looked up to.

WHEN DID YOU MEET EACH OTHER?

JOSH HUGHES: The first time I make Gabe was this past summer. We live on separate coasts of Florida. We've probably seen each other at tournaments, but we never actually met. I've known Trey for four or five years now, because he lives closer to me. Our dads are fraternity brothers, so we've known each other for a while. With Gabe and Trey, and being on a team with them, it makes you feel good. It makes me feel welcomed because sometimes being the only Black person on the team can be tough. Sometimes you don't necessarily fit in with everybody else on the team, where I'm that outsider guy. Being on a team with Trey and Gabe was like a brotherhood.

TREY BRADFORD: I first met Josh when I started playing in eighth grade and because his dad and my dad were close. I would play him maybe once or twice every year, up until last year, when his dad suggested for me to sign up for True. When we started playing on the same team, that's where we got close.

HOW DOES IT FEEL BEING THE ONLY?

GABE CLARK: When you're the only Black kid on a lacrosse team that's predominantly white, it feels like you're the odd one out. I've mainly been the only Black kid on my lacrosse team. When I first met Josh and Trey, we all played for True Lacrosse. We hadn't really connected before, but when the incident happened, we were on the same team. We were on the same field, and it was more of a comfortable feeling because I knew I wasn't like the only kid out there that was colored.

TREY BRADFORD: Maybe it’s a little bit like being alone because I don’t have anyone that can relate to me. It’s not scary. I just tell myself, “Oh, I'm the only one.” I just have to think to myself and no one's going to relate. My teammates try to make sure I don't feel like the only one. They don't exclude me or anything. I've had pretty good experiences so far.








WHAT HAPPENED ON THE FIELD LAST JULY IN FLORIDA?

GABE CLARK: Off the bat, I could tell the guys on the other team were pretty mouthy. They were just talking and talking and adding little comments throughout the game, even to our coach. It was a tough game. I think we won by a goal and it was a little back-and-forth. But the actual issues didn’t really happen until the end of the game. That’s when everyone started getting chippy and mad. These kids were throwing bodies around the whole game and they got a lot of penalties for it. A lot of them were cocky, too, so I had a weird feeling when the game started.

JOSH HUGHES: I remember seeing them before the game. I saw their team walking past me and I felt like they were going to be the most aggravating team. It was a tough game. I remember at the end of the game, the incident happened, I was on the sideline coming off. Everything just erupted and I ran onto the field.

TREY BRADFORD: The game where it happened was a game to go to the championship for our tournament. It was a good game. It happened after the game was done after we had won. It was just a high-tension, very physical game. There were a lot of flags for crosschecking, illegal body checking, stuff like that.

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOU HEARD WHAT THE OTHER TEAM SAID?

TREY BRADFORD: After the game, we were holding the ball. We got the ball with like 10 seconds left and we kept it. Then, three of the kids from the other team jumped on one of my teammates. I thought, “I'm not going to start a fight, but I'm going to get three kids off of one person.” I'm defending my teammate. I get one of the kids and I pull him off, and that’s when he proceeds to call me the N-word. And I'm like, “What was that even for?” I don't get mad. Even in games, I don't get hype. I'm kind of nonchalant, but something like that made me mad because I didn't feel like I had to get called a racial slur for defending my teammate. I wanted to retaliate, but I knew they always catch the second person.

GABE CLARK: I was on the other side of the field. I didn't even know what happened until I saw everyone swarming to one group and I was like, “Wait, what's going on?” The first thing was said in that moment, and then when they were running off, they started saying more stuff. That's when I heard it and I was kind of in shock, but I wasn't really mad. I didn't have a strike of anger to me. I was more sad and disappointed because there have been all these talks about our recent events. There has been a lot of talk about racism and racial inequity and it’s like, did you not learn anything? It’s just disappointing that people are that stubborn and ignorant, that they just don't learn.

JOSH HUGHES: First and foremost was probably anger because I saw a guy coming up and about to hit Trey. I knew the game was over. They had just blown the whistle. I went over to see what was going on and make sure Trey was alright. I’ve known Trey for a while and I had never seen him that angry at that moment. I realized what had happened and I was angry. Then it was sadness, because this isn't the first time it's happened to me in a game. We're on the same stuff again.





HOW DISCOURAGING WAS THIS MOMENT FOR YOUR LACROSSE CAREER?

JOSH HUGHES: It seems like in my lacrosse career, things would be looking up and we wouldn’t have to deal with racism. Then, at some point, it'll happen again. I didn’t necessarily fall out of love with the game, but I asked myself, “Why do people feel like they have to when I'm just playing the game like them?” I just don’t get why people have to say words like that and treat people so poorly.

GABE CLARK: Stopping lacrosse out of that situation isn’t one of the first things I thought about, because that’s just giving in to that type of behavior, and that's basically what they want. They want to belittle, and they want to shrink. Giving in to the hate gives that person who was hating the power. Giving up our power is what they want. If you give up, it's just going to be a constant cycle.

TREY BRADFORD: When I talked to my parents after, and my coach, I said I'm not going to sit here and sugarcoat it. I said it was eventually going to happen, being one of the only ones. I hate that it was my first time and I had to experience it, but it was going to happen one way or another. That's sad, but it's reality. I'm glad it happened because I could have been thrown into another situation and not known how to respond, but I know now.

WHAT ARE YOUR TAKEAWAYS LOOKING BACK ON LAST SUMMER?

JOSH HUGHES: The biggest thing I'll take away from the summer is that you can't just let in with what's going on. You can't quit. Talking to Kyle Harrison after that situation was pivotal for me. Hearing from Jovan Miller and Jeremy Audrey, who runs the Nation United Foundation — with the new We Stand initiative coming out of it, and me being a part of the planning of it — that summer motivated me to realize that I have the actual power to change what's going on in the sport. If I keep going and I do the right thing, I could make this game better for the next generation of players.

GABE CLARK: Change can happen. After seeing the swarm of people come around and cocoon us and show us that they care and show us where our voice is heard, it was a comfortable feeling. It brings me back to understanding that there are people that understand what I'm going through and change can happen if enough people want it to happen. I have a lot more voice than I thought I had before everything that happened. I will be an influencer for the people who are going to be behind me one day.

TREY BRADFORD: I've learned that racism still exists even in 2021. But I've also learned not to blame the kids per se, but maybe the environment they're raised in. Now, in the year that we're in and our generation — how there's just so many different cultures represented now — there's just no reason to act that way toward a particular race. I want to help going forward. My dad has been doing the We Stand initiative. Eventually, I want to take part in that. I want to come back to where I grew up and just help grow the game to minorities.