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"> Chazz Woodson and the Cape You Wear as the 'Only' | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY MATT DUNN

Chazz Woodson retired from MLL after a career spanning 12 years and seven different teams. He was a two-time All-Ivy League attackman at Brown. Woodson is the co-founder of Sankofa Lacrosse, which conducts free clinics in underrepresented communities.

Chazz Woodson and the Cape You Wear as the 'Only'


This article, as told to Matt Hamilton, appears in the April edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, which includes a special 12-page section featuring faces and voices of the black lacrosse community. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

As long as I can remember, I was around lacrosse. I was a coach’s son. He coached at a predominantly white school. My dad’s players were the guys I looked up to as athletes. They weren’t all white, but most of them were. So my lacrosse role models rarely looked like me. And I never cared. That never deterred me.

I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, so I was pretty much the only one that knew anything about lacrosse.

There were days that I’d bring my stick to football practice, and it was completely foreign to most of the people at the park. Ironically, from time to time, I would actually get words of encouragement from older black people who did not recognize the game, but who understood the significance of a young black male engaging and succeeding in a sport (or any arena, really) so dominated by white males.

As I grew up, I became more acutely aware of what it meant to be around my peers and be the “only.” When I got to Brown, that’s when I began to understand how being the “only” provided me a platform and an opportunity to impact others. I spent a semester teaching in New York, creating a project centered around setting goals and choosing positive role models. It was awesome to see the impact I had on those kids, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. That was a big moment. The joy I found using this sport to expose kids to new experiences — to lacrosse, to an Ivy League institution — is difficult to put into words. This sport provided me that opportunity.


“There’s a difference between tolerance or acceptance and feeling included.”


As a black male who is very conscious of being the “only,” sometimes you find yourself walking a tightrope between two worlds. In college, I didn’t really hang out with my teammates, because their social scene didn’t appeal to me. I liked my teammates a lot, but part of the balance was spending time away from them and the sport to maintain my own mental and emotional well-being.

Chris Rock said in one of his stand-ups, “All of my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all of my white friends have one black friend.” My experience in life is relatively on par with that.

When I graduated and got into teaching, I started at a predominantly black school, and that’s when the Duke case occurred. I was the one person associated with lacrosse that anybody in the community knew. So for better or worse, I represented the sport. In lacrosse, you’re one of the only black players. You’re representative of the race. For black people, you’re representative of the sport. It’s a weird dynamic sometimes.

I had to wear that cape. I had to be conscious of what I said or did, because that’s what you have to do as the “only.”








Joining MLL gave me an even greater platform to connect with people. One young man stands out to me. I remember being tagged in his posts and, impressive as they were, I couldn’t figure out why I was being tagged. None of his posts were lacrosse-related. Finally, I reached out to him.

He responded with a picture of me, him and his brother after a Cannons game. He was like, “We came to see you play lacrosse. We reached out to you on Facebook and said we were having a tough time, and you responded to us. It’s a shame. I love lacrosse, but my experience just wasn’t that great. We both ended up quitting the sport. But it meant so much to meet you and speak with you.”

Those are the things that made me hyper-aware of the impact I have and that we have.




PHOTO BY PRETTY INSTANT


Am I proud that I’m a pro lacrosse player? Yes. Am I proud that as a black player, I made it to this level? Yes. Am I proud to be a black player in this game that has been mostly dominated for so long by white faces? Yes. Do I want to be recognized as the good black pro lacrosse player? Not necessarily. I want to be recognized for my accomplishments, just like any other professional in any other field.

How many years has this game been played? How many years has this game been dominated by white faces? It’s not something that’s going to change overnight. It’s not going to happen in five years, 10 years or maybe even 20 years.

There’s a difference between tolerance or acceptance and feeling included. Inclusion is the creation of an environment that all people want to be a part of, or at the least one in which they don’t feel unwelcome, excluded or uneasy. They don’t feel “only.” You can be only and not feel only. That’s tough for some people to empathize with. But until we reach the point where everyone understands it and cares, it’s going to be tough to change it.