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“Grow The Game”. For Everyone.

The Creator’s Game. From its inception to now lacrosse has changed drastically. But at its core, it has been and will always be a game of the Native Americans. Different regions’ tribes had different nuances to the game, but modern lacrosse is an adaptation of the Mohawk style of play. 

Despite its Indiginous roots, modern lacrosse is a notoriously white sport. When you think of lacrosse you think of Vineyard Vines, you think of private schools, you think of affluence. If you’re familiar with 2006 Duke lacrosse, you might think of lacrosse and lacrosse players with a bit of disdain, regardless of their later confirmed innocence. You don’t think of the native creators, you don’t think of BIPOCs and kids from impoverished communities playing the game.

And as much as it pains me to say, most of the general assumptions about lacrosse are correct. As of 2018, only 18% of Division I men’s lacrosse players are men of color. Out of 68 Division I programs, 64 head coaches are white men and out of the 174 assistant coaches, 163 are white men as well. In both cases, only 2 are black men. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Tewaaraton Award, the highest individual honor in collegiate lacrosse, had its first non-white winner. According to Sports Market Analytics, kids from families with a median household income of $75,000+ make up 65.9% of participants in the sport.

It’s not a situation lacrosse players themselves are oblivious to. Growing up in Jacksonville Beach, I acknowledge my friends and I (for the most part) are economically and racially privileged compared to kids who lived and went to school in town. I played lacrosse for three years in high school, and I had a roster spot when I entered my freshman year at Jacksonville University. In my three years of playing on both school and club teams, I never had a single teammate that was black. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of minority teammates I had, and honestly probably have fingers to spare. When the underfunded, predominantly black schools got lacrosse teams, we often spent our games teaching them how to play. I can remember refereeing a game between Fleming Island and Lee where I spent more time explaining penalties and rules to the Lee girls than looking for the penalties. Lee’s team was later disbanded after their coach quit in the middle of the season. 

People within the sport, myself included, preach “growing the game”. I coach with the first girls’ youth lacrosse program in Jacksonville Beach, a step toward creating a solid feeder program in an effort to finally go toe-to-toe with the richer teams in Saint Johns County that typically dominate well into the Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs. We have little babies on our elementary school teams and rising seniors on our high school team. I’m so proud of how Duval Lacrosse has grown over the last three years. But even still, we don’t have a single black player on any of our teams. We barely have any POCs at all. And it’s by no means something I’m proud of.

When we say “grow the game”, we should mean across racial and economic lines. When we say “grow the game”, we should seek to reach everyone, not just everywhere. Programs like Harlem Lacrosse seek to bridge this gap. 

Harlem Lacrosse was founded in 2008. The program takes a holistic approach to creating better students and getting at-risk youth to college through lacrosse. What started as a team of 10 kids has grown to take roots in 17 program sites across New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. 92% of their students identify as African-American, Hispanic, or multiracial, and 45% speak a language other than English at home. 96% of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Today, Harlem Lacrosse kids have a 100% on-time middle school graduation rate and pass classes at a rate 20% higher than their peers, even going on to prestigious universities such as the United States Military Academy and the University of Virginia.

Programs like Harlem Lacrosse will be the bedrock of making the game accessible to minority and impoverished communities. It’s how kids who usually wouldn’t be able to get their hands on equipment or pay for travel teams will break into a sport that was never meant to be affluent white peoples’ to gatekeep. And it’s programs like Harlem Lacrosse that deserve recognition and exposure above big programs like SweetLax or Maryland United.

I love lacrosse. It’s a sport that taught me more about life and about myself than the other eight I grew up playing combined. I’ll spend as long as I can trying to give back to the game that gave me so much. But I’d be remiss, especially in our current climate, if I didn’t do my best to give back to not only the game’s origins, but its areas that lack attention in general as well. I want to spend whatever sort of journalistic career making sure I give just as much attention to minorities and women of the game as I do to the big names and PLL coverage. And I want to start with Harlem Lacrosse.

Rob Pannell Joins the Premier Lacrosse League

In true PLL form, the announcement came with its fair share of flair. It started as a still picture post on both Instagram and Twitter; a single stool with the word “finally”. A few people took it as a sign of an official affiliation with Barstool Sports. A lot just responded about how confused they were. But there were a few shining stars with big brains out there, tagging Pannell and replying with GIFs of the world-class attackman playing.

And then on Monday, a minute and a half video dropped across PLL social media. Simply calling it a video doesn’t do it justice. More like “make you wanna smash through a brick wall” fuel in the form of an incredibly well-produced visual. It began with notification sounds and Rob reading what sound like tweets from before last year’s inaugural PLL season. The tweets both questioned his absence from the league and criticized him. As the video progresses, we get different visuals of Pannell working out, taking shots, playing wall ball, and concluding with one stone cold look into the camera and one word out of him: “Finally”.

It’s no secret the formation of the PLL created a huge vacuum of talent in the MLL. Many high profile players opted to follow Paul Rabil in his quest to form a player-centric league, but there were a few that chose to stay; Lyle Thompson, Colin Heacock, and Rob Pannell among the more notable names.

While Pannell’s friends and former teammates were off playing in a new league with a new format, Pannell struggled through the 2019 seasons. The New York Lizards (Pannell’s former MLL team) went 5-11 and he notched 63 points across 16 games. In the previous season, Rob Pannell was the league’s MVP and Offensive Player of the year with 78 points across 13 games. It wasn’t just the statistical aspect of the game that was hard, it was the mental aspect too. The former Cornell player told US Lacrosse Magazine that the 2019 MLL season was the first time in his career he wasn’t having fun with the game.

It’s safe to say Rob Pannell brings not only an incredibly competitive drive to whatever team selects him in the entry draft, but he also brings a storied 21 year career with him. At Cornell, RP3 tallied a Tewaaraton (NCAA Lax’s highest honor), two Lt. Raymond J. Enners Awards, two Jack Turnbull Awards, USILA Outstanding Player of the Year, and USILA Attackman of the year. His accomplishments put him in the company of some of the sport’s best, including Gary Gait and Casey Powell. He sits 5th in NCAA all-time career points rankings, and led Cornell to the NCAA tournament four out of his five years there, earning appearances in two semifinals and one final. Pannell was a part of both the 2014 World Championship and 2018 World Games Team USA teams and won silver and gold medals for those respective tournaments.

Rob Pannell recently appeared on Overtime with Paul Carcaterra where he was asked what his primary motivation was about his PLL move, to which he responded, “I think I was just forgotten about honestly for a summer. And I’m back. Not that I need to show it, but I’m ready to show it.” PLL fans should definitely be excited for the competition and intensity Rob Pannell brings to the league, and if you’re not a fan yet, this is the perfect time to become one. It’s looking like it’ll be quite the exciting summer.

Bill Belichick: CEO of Combine Interviews

Jehu Chesson and I

Bill Belichick is nothing if not elusive, but there are still some great stories out there about the Patriots Head Coach at the combine; his 1989 interview with Deion Sanders and his 2019 donation to the RunRichRun charity drive among the more notable ones.

I can promise you that the Keller Williams Family Reunion is the last place I’d expect to learn a new Combine Bill story. But as I sat in a breakout session titled Go for Growth with Sports and Entertainment, that’s exactly what I got. About 40 minutes into the panel D.C. area agent Jordan Stuart brought up a client of his, newly-signed Jets wide receiver Jehu Chesson.

Jehu Chesson was born in Liberia but moved to the St. Louis area around age 5. A recruit out of Ladue Horton Watkins High School, Chesson went on to play for the University of Michigan after initially redshirting his freshman year. During the 2017 NFL Combine, Chesson was interviewed by the New England Patriots, and we got to hear a bit about that:

I’m sitting in an interview room, Bill Belichick’s there, Kraft’s there… everybody’s in there right? And Bill Belichick tells me to shake- I go and shake the hand of everybody in there and he’s like, “Okay now name four people you just met.” And then I was like… so I named him, I named Kraft, and then he’s like, “No, no, no. We don’t count. Name four other people you met just now.” And so I couldn’t name them and he’s like, “You just met these people how come you can’t name them?”

We all chuckled, and the facilitator and Jehu went back and forth a bit about the start of his interview. A bit of recognizable “Patriot Way” showing through Bill in that moment.

Jehu went on to tell us about the rest of his interview, and how his evaluation with the Pats stood out from other teams. “Then they proceed to put on the film right? Normally it’s all your plays you made in college, whatever it is. With me they were saying, ‘Oh he’s a physical receiver, he’s not afraid to block, he’s a deep threat.’ So with me, they literally put on all my low lights ever since my freshman year of college. Every dropped pass, every missed assignment, every loaf.”

Chesson tells us a scout stopped him after the interview and told him that was the best he’d seen a guy perform against Bill’s attempts to expose him. After listening to Jehu Chesson speak on everything from football to sitting in on New York board meetings, I can confidently say it’s because Jehu embodies a lot of what the general public knows as the Patriot Way. He’s composed, he’s hard working, and he’s thoughtful. It was amazing to hear from industry professionals and gain an insight on what it’s like to work with successful athletes, but Chesson’s insight was definitely more important to me.

We often forget that athletes are people first. Sure, their performance is the commodity of an industry that relies on selling these people that do what the average person can’t. They’re athletically gifted and we all know it. But sometimes we put them on pedestals and assume they need to be treated differently than everyone else. At the end of the day, they’re not that much different than you and I. They’re more than their position, and they deserve for us to remember that.

I spoke to Jehu after the panel finished to ask his permission to share his story, and of course snap a picture. He was kind enough to let me steal his interaction with Bill Belichick for a unique angle, and while I know that’s what most Pats fans will care about, I want to leave you all with the part of Jehu Chesson’s story that I cared about. When Jehu was talking about trying to regroup after BB’s handshake request, he said this: “You never rise to the occasion, you sink to your level of training.” He later went on to elaborate, saying that when we’re put in uncomfortable situations or pushed to our limits, we seldom perform better than when we’re comfortable. More often than not, you revert back to the level of performance you most commonly function at. But to aspire to work so hard that you not only elevate your highest level of play, but the level of play you find yourself at during complete exhaustion? That’s admirable. THAT’S the Patriot Way. And that’s something we can all aspire to.

Goodbye, 12.

No not TB12, the other 12.

When I was 16, I made 12 my number. My favorite number, my jersey number, my lucky number. It was my mentor’s number, and when I graduated high school I passed it down to my mentee. 12 is the number I associate with hard work and grit. It’s what I associate with succeeding in the face of criticism and winning.

Most associate the number with Tom Brady or Roger Staubach. Those are phenomenal players, but fans of the Red Sox know 12 a bit differently. 12’s a family man. He’s a goof. He’s the ONLY player to EVER hit for the cycle in the postseason. In 2019, 12 put up 77 hits, 31 RBIs, 2 home runs, and had a .297 batting average. 12 loved us, and we loved 12. But now we’ve gotta tell Brock Holt goodbye.

It was announced a few hours ago that pending physical, Brock Holt will be signing with the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s hard to process news like this coming just a little over a week after the confirmation of the Mookie deal going through. This morning, we woke up to Mookie’s farewell video. Tonight, we go to bed with heavy hearts knowing we not only lost a great player, but one of the greatest all-around men to wear a Sox uniform.

Brock Holt wrapped his fifth straight season as a captain of the Jimmy Fund last year. He frequently champions the charity on his social media and in other media appearances. Holt’s also a proud family man. You’d be very hard-pressed to find a Red Sox fan who hasn’t seen a video of the adorable Griff Holt hittin’ dingers off his dad. Take a short scroll through the man’s Instagram. You’ll find that he loves his wife and kid more than anything, and that he genuinely wants to do good.

After 162 last year, Brock Holt handed out all of his bats to fans outside of the game. He’s a great, well-rounded player. But I think most of us can agree we love Brock Holt the person more than we love Brock Holt the player. Milwaukee, you’re gaining a great one. Take care of him for us.

Goodbye 12. Please, try to be the only one that leaves Title Town this year.

Mamba and Mambacita: A Look at Lives Lost

You‘re back in school. And you’ve just messed up on an essay, or a homework assignment, or literally anything on a piece of paper. What do you do? You ball it up, shoot it at the trash can, act like you’ve just completed the sickest fade away, and shout, “Kobe!”. A man seemingly larger than life, Kobe Bryant had a cultural impact that spanned far beyond the basketball world, beyond the sports world even. And that’s a part of why yesterday‘s news is so tragic, so unsettling and painful and confusing.

I was sitting in my car, having just gotten out of a store, when I received a four word text: “holy shit Kobe’s dead”. Immediately, I pulled down my notifications and started going through my ESPN notifications, wondering how I could’ve missed such a thing. When the only mention of the legend‘s name was a link to a story on LeBron‘s surpassing in the record books, I figured I’d received a misguided text. So I went to Google. That’s where I saw the TMZ article.

The next two hours felt like I was watching chaos in real time, because in truth we were. Across the media world, reporters dealt in misinformation, hurrying to be the first to break a new piece of information. We had reports that all of Kobe‘s daughters had died with him. Then, his daughters weren’t there, but Rick Fox was. The mess that was reporting yesterday gave reason to pause when reports started coming in that Gianna Maria, the 13 year old daughter of Vanessa and Kobe Bryant, was in the crash as well. TMZ reported that a rep for Kobe confirmed GiGi and Kobe were traveling to the Mamba Academy. By the six o’clock news cycle, we knew that the flight likely had nine passengers rather than five. We knew that along with Kobe and Gianna, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and daughter Alyssa were also in the crash.

The depth of pain and confusion surrounding yesterday‘s events is so immense, and there‘s so many terrible components. The loss of life in a sudden and violent manner is always hard to deal with for multiple reasons. At the forefront, you have this jolting new reality that someone who used to occupy a space alongside us no longer exists in that same capacity. At its core, sudden deaths remind us of the true fragility of life. The loss of such a vibrant, unstoppable man reminds us that none of us are immune to tragedy and death. And the loss of a young child reminds us that life can be cruel and unforgiving, often robbing the least deserving of us all.

At just 41, Kobe Bryant had already completed a very successful career, but as Former President Barack Obama stated, he was, “just getting started in what would have been a meaningful second act.” His first consisted of five NBA titles, two finals MVP titles, and one NBA MVP title. He was an 18-time All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist. His second act appeared to be one centered on family and love. Kobe had recently begun coaching his daughter‘s youth team, and was working to mold future generations of the sport through his Mamba Academy and other outlets. At 13, his daughter Gianna Bryant showed great promise as a young talent of the sport. Kobe sited Gianna as the reason he began watching NBA games again, saying that after she asked him to watch them with her, they would constantly watch games and go over film. According to her father, GiGi had aspirations to play at UConn and then continue on to the WNBA, excited to carry on her father‘s legacy. Two bright futures senselessly cut short.

There aren’t enough words to explain the magnitude of this loss. As both a sports fan and an athlete, I‘ve always admired Kobe and Mamba Mentality. To be good or even talented is not the same as being truly great. To be great, you also need work ethic, discipline, and grit. You have to be willing to sacrifice what others will not, you have to have intense internal drive. You have to be willing to engage in a relentless pursuit of what you want. Kobe was truly great, and he modeled that greatness for not just the basketball community, but the world. The loss of Kobe Bryant is one that has rightfully rocked the world. The death of his young daughter also cuts deep. A rising star. A lovable young girl. A sister. A daughter. A child that had endless possibilities in front of her.

I can‘t claim to have known how Kobe and Gianna would’ve wanted us to proceed. I can’t give you knowledgeable words of comfort as someone who knew them. It doesn’t feel right to offer up words of advice on grief either, because everyone‘s experience with grief is different. What I can do is leave you with what feels most appropriate: words of advice from Mamba himself.

“Have a good time. Enjoy life. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving, you have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep rolling.”

RIP Kobe Bryant (1978-2020) and Gianna Bryant (2006-2020), as well as the seven others killed in Sunday‘s crash.

Thank You, 12

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

I want to make something very clear before I start: I am not of the “End of the Dynasty” camp. I am not writing this because I think he’ll retire, or because I believe the Brady wanting out of the organization rumors. I will not accept that man’s last day as a Patriot until the words leave his very own lips (or in this day and age, the Notes app announcement is posted to his social media). This isn’t a goodbye. It’s a pause; a reflection.

It’s no secret that Saturday’s loss is frustrating. And is hurts. Until the 4th quarter, a win felt so possible. If you were to ask me the point I began to panic, where the reality of a loss began to set in, it’d be Vrabel’s penalty game. But that’s a topic for another post. As we spend the rest of January watching other teams reach places ours have ruled over for the past eight straight years, we’ve got a lot to mull over. And one of those is the past, present, and future of our QB1.

Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida would make it seem like I’d have taken to the Jaguars and that’d be it. At the age of 10, I was so turned off by my hometown organization that watching football wasn’t even enjoyable anymore. So I took an NFL hiatus. And then a few years later, Super Bowl XLVI came around. Every one of my friends had picked their dog in the fight in the days, weeks preceding the game. But I just couldn’t decide. My decision came on the day of the game, when I noticed the patches the Patriots were wearing. After learning the initials were that of Robert Kraft’s wife, I decided the Patriots would receive my well wishes that day; they seemed like good guys.

Eli Manning came out on top that day, but the Patriots gained a fan for life. All of Boston did. Growing up, I watched prime time New England games with my dad (a Brady fan from the day he was drafted, he likes to think of New England as his second team). I was familiar with the team, but not at all like I became following that game. I went all in. It wasn’t the success, it was the underdog story. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, and it’s made me appreciative of those that value hard work over pageantry. From then on out, I was a Patriots fan.

Soon, I was learning all I could about Boston. And as I branched out into other sports, I never questioned which team would be my team. When my uncle’s baseball career took off, I started following the Red Sox. When my freshman year journalism teacher shared his love of basketball and Shea Serrano with us, I started following the Celtics. When someone finally introduced hockey to this Florida girl, I started cheering for the Bruins. And after a week-long New England road trip with my dad and cousin in 2015, I was completely sold.

My mom and I frequently talk about a mutual feeling we share (hers about Denver, mine about Boston). We’re thankful for where we live. Growing up in Florida is an experience like no other. But it doesn’t feel like home. For me, New England feels like home. There’s nowhere else that gives me the same sense of belonging. And at the end of the day, I’ve got Tom Brady to inadvertently thank for leading me to my greatest love.

Watching Tom Brady’s dominant success for the past two decades has been an absolute treasure for everyone. Love him or hate him, claiming he’s not one of the greatest to ever do it is just plain idiocy at this point. TB12 holds the record for most consecutive AFC championship appearances, most Super Bowl MVP titles, most divisional titles, all-time passing yards and passing touchdowns (regular and post season combined), and postseason passing yards and touchdowns. He’s been selected for 14 Pro Bowls (but who plays this s–t to go to Pro Bowls?). He’s second in regular season passing yards and touchdown passes. He’s the second Quarterback in history to play in the postseason at 42. He was honored this year as a member of the NFL 100 All-Time team. His on-field talent could be raved about for days. His accolades, however, aren’t all he’s got to be proud of though.

Following the loss to the Titans, many teammates weighed in on their time with Brady. NESN’s Zack Cox had quotes from multiple Patriots concerning their feelings on their quarterback. Many had the same things to share: Tom’s work ethic, football IQ, and true-to-self nature put him ahead of the rest just as much as his records and awards do. He’s shaped the culture of the team, and it’s a culture that cultivates winning. The Brady-Belichick dynamic has fostered an environment of focused, driven individuals centered around the same goal: success. And it’s rewarded us tenfold.

A loss in the playoffs doesn’t signal the end of the dynasty. If that was true, the dynasty would’ve ended in 2007, or 2009, or 2011, 2013, 2015, or 2017 for that matter. The end of an era? Yes. We’d all be remiss if we pretended there isn’t an extremely talented class of young quarterbacks dominating right now. But just because we’re ushering in a new era, doesn’t mean the dynasty has to stop here.

Robert Kraft says he “hopes and prays” Tom stays with the Pats in 2020. I think majority of us share that sentiment. Regardless of where TB12 winds up come the fall, I’ll always be thankful for the time we got with him. I’m thankful for every high and every low (though let’s be real, there’s been very few lows). I’m thankful for the tireless dedication he’s shown the organization. I’m thankful for enough excitement to last a lifetime. I’m thankful for a man who is the perfect example of knowing exactly what you’re capable of and stopping at nothing to prove it to everyone else. I’m thankful for a guy who’s sacrificed his health and time with his family year after year for 20 seasons so far. I’m thankful to pick #199 for introducing me to not only a team, but an entire region that has my heart for the rest of my life.

Robert Kraft once recounted his first time meeting Tom Brady. He says Tom looked right at him and said, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.” 20 years later, you’ve more than proved them right, 12. Thanks for an incredible 20, here’s to however many more you’re willing to give us.

Stephon Gilmore and the DPOY Debate

Stephon Gilmore was just selected for his third Pro Bowl. With the year the cornerback is having, it’s a no-brainer for him to be named a starter for this year‘s AFC defense. He was even selected by some NFL execs as defensive player of the year in an anonymous poll. But even with these honors, there are some that try to argue Gilmore is undeserving of all the hype and whether or not he should be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Let’s dive into the main points many bring up when trying to discount his status.

Tre’Davious White

Bills Mafia is nothing if not passionate, and it’s caused quite the debate over who the best corner in the league is. And they’re not without reason; Tre’Davious White has some impressive stats. White has totaled 6 interceptions, 44 allowed completions on 84 targets, and a passer rating of 43.9 (per Touchdown Wire). The corner has no touchdowns, but he does edge out Gilmore on forced fumbles. Tre’Davious White is certainly having quite the season, but it’s hard to seriously look at the numbers and argue that White’s the better corner. Just for fun, a quick breakdown by player:

Tre’Davious White: 84 targets, 44 receptions allowed, 532 yards, zero touchdowns allowed, six interceptions, zero touchdowns, 32.8 passer rating

Stephon Gilmore: 84 targets, 38 receptions allowed, 444 yards, zero touchdowns allowed, six interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 43.9 passer rating

Numbers wise, while close, Gilmore is the better corner. He’s allowed fewer receptions for fewer yards, has a better passer rating, and has turned two of his interceptions into pick-sixes. 

Schedule

Before the season even started, any success the Pats would have was tarnished by their schedule. Prior to the start of the season, CBS Sports ranked the Bill’s strength of schedule at 24th, and the Patriots tied for 27th with the Giants, Jets, and Rams. Now, pre-season strength of schedule rankings aren’t a fair way to judge players in Week 15, but it shows the cloud that was cast over the Patriots from the start. Only the Washington Redskins were considered to have an easier schedule than the Patriots. And week by week the dominance of the Patriots’ defense was torn down because of the weakness of their opponents. If we’re comparing against Tre’Davious White, easily Gilmore’s closest competition, the strength of schedule should never be a point to stand on. Out of 14 games (subtracting two for the games where they face each other) the Bills’ and Patriots’ schedules are the same save two games each. Where the Patriots played the Texans and the Chiefs, the Bills have played the Titans and the Broncos. Arguably, the Patriots had the tougher of the differing opponents. But when it comes to debates about Gilmore’s talent, the lack of difficulty of his opponents if constantly thrown around as is the teams don’t play nearly identical schedules. With the nearly same exact opponents, Stephon Gilmore is still posting better numbers than his AFC East competitor.

Of course there’s a league full of other corners, but few as dynamic and dominant as Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White. Patriots fans should feel confident that we’ve got the best of the best in Gilly Lock, and the rest of the league would do good to fall into the same mindset.

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