faces and voices of the Native American lacrosse community. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

I’m from the Onondaga Nation. I grew up on both reservations, the Onondaga reservation and Mohawk territory. My clan is the Hawk Clan, which is passed down from my mother.

"> Months After Wings Incident, Thompson: 'My Hair is Who I Am' | USA Lacrosse Magazine

Lyle Thompson was the subject of insensitive remarks at Wells Fargo Arena on Jan. 12. (Greg Wall)

Months After Wings Incident, Thompson: 'My Hair is Who I Am'


This article, as told to Matt Hamilton, appears in the April edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, which includes a special 10-page section featuring faces and voices of the Native American lacrosse community. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

I’m from the Onondaga Nation. I grew up on both reservations, the Onondaga reservation and Mohawk territory. My clan is the Hawk Clan, which is passed down from my mother.

Lacrosse truly is a medicine because of what it brings to each person, but also the sense of community it brings within everybody. Any birthday party I went to, it was lacrosse. There were mini-stick games going and folks were all out there.

Once I started playing against teams off the reservation, they stared a lot at us, being a Native team. We could always feel it. In 10th grade, we played a Maryland team to qualify for the Dick’s Sporting Goods tournament. I grabbed the ball out of an out-of-bounds play, and a parent, trying to get in my head, said a bunch of stereotypical things like, “Cut your hair.” 


My hair is more than just my identity. It’s more than just showing everyone around the world who I am, that I’m Native American. It brought back memories, things we do, traditions I’ve done with my hair since I was a kid.


For the most part, the comments were always about my hair. Either cut my hair or calling me a long-haired freak or a girl. Most of it was corny stuff that wouldn’t even affect me. They didn’t understand Native Americans.

Then, playing against teams in the Syracuse area who knew about Natives, they were coming at us as people. Stereotypical things like alcoholism. “Your parents are alcoholics.” I laughed it off. That’s not part of my life. Never has been.

Kids at school would call me a girl because I had long hair, and I always took offense to it. I would react in a negative way. I got in about five fights in grade school because of my hair. I would be suspended. Not to say it wasn’t my fault, but it goes on both hands. My father always said to stick up for what I believe in.








I never really cried about it until the Philly incident. I spent a solid two weeks with my mind being just on that. My father always told us why we had long hair. It was tradition and to show that we were proud of who we were as Native American people. With our hair, it was like we were standing up in resilience and against colonization, really.

After the Philadelphia incident, the more I thought about it, the more I realized my hair is more than just my identity. It’s more than just showing everyone around the world who I am, that I’m Native American. It brought back memories, things we do, traditions I’ve done with my hair since I was a kid. 

We would always cut our hair on a full moon. We would never throw it in the garbage. We would burn it as a protection medicine. We never went to barber shops. We’d always cut each other’s hair. Those were traditions and a spiritual sense we had in us. It was more than our identity. It was a connection to something bigger.




Thompson grew up playing the medicine game on the Onondaga reservation and eventually became one of the Native community's biggest stars.


It starts in the history books. It’s not that the truth isn’t told in history books, it’s that it’s not fully told. You don’t learn about the treaties and the ways we helped each other as people. You’re rarely learning about Native Americans, and if you are, it’s the American side. You learn about the Trail of Tears. These kids are not learning of who we are. That’s why I had those altercations in grade school.

Social media is a huge platform — a way to get a message out there and start a movement. If this incident never happened and I never said anything about it, things would continue to happen until somebody with my platform spoke out. It’s good that it happened to me. It’s good that it happened at the professional level, where I can say something about it. 

I want everyone to feel like we are not any different. I don’t want to sit here and tell you that where we grew up is different than where you grew up, or the way we play the game is different than the way you play the game. I want people to know that wherever you are in the world, wherever you come from, this game is medicine. We were given this game as medicine, for ourselves and our communities. Lacrosse is a community. Whether you’re competing or not, there’s medicine in it.