No Racism Allowed: Sweet Lax's 'Zero Tolerance' Policy After July 26 Incident

Josh Hughes was among the victims when racial epithets were used by players from the Space Coast Stingrays, representing Sweet Lax.

This article appears in the November edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today! Thank you for your support.

When Kevin Dugan walks between end lines at summer lacrosse tournaments, he encounters rampant signage.

Staked into the grass are warnings about errant balls, locators for college coaches and all sorts of collateral event branding. What if visitors knew they had entered a zero-tolerance zone? 

What if participants knew that calling an opponent the N-word would result in immediate expulsion or that similar acts of discrimination or harassment could get their club ostracized?

Dugan, the former college coach who brought lacrosse to Uganda and Jamaica, found himself at a loss for words and in search of such a deterrent after learning of the racism that boiled over during the Summer Faceoff in Orlando. That the perpetrators played for a club affiliated with his own only heightened his sense of responsibility.

Dugan once gave up a promising career to start the Fields of Growth athlete volunteers corps, inspired by a student trip to El Salvador he led in 2007. The Notre Dame graduate has had coaching stops at Gordon, Yale, Scranton and Wheeling Jesuit, plus a stint at his alma mater as the director of lacrosse operations.

But for more than a decade before he was hired as the Florida director of Sweet Lax, Dugan brought lacrosse to developing countries and established training compounds for what would become their national teams. He provided service opportunities for high school and college lacrosse players in the U.S. to travel internationally. He has operated World Lacrosse clinics in Haiti, Kenya, Colombia, France, Spain and Mexico.

Sweet Lax itself has a Jamaican origin story. The club was inspired by former Syracuse star Hakeem Lecky, the Jamaican-born immigrant whom Sweet Lax founder Kevin Martin discovered in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and ultimately took in as his legal guardian.

Which made it all the more maddening July 26 when Dugan, driving back to Florida from a national recruiting event in Delaware, received word of the ugly exchange in Orlando.

During a heated one-goal game, high school players from the Space Coast Stingrays — representing Sweet Lax as one of the newest members of its regional development program — reportedly hurled racial epithets at three True Lacrosse opponents.

Gabe Clark, Trey Bradford and Josh Hughes said they were called the N-word and told to “go back to Africa,” among other taunts. The episode gained the attention of the national lacrosse community when Kyle Harrison tweeted the screen shot of a text message he received on his phone from one of the players.

“I get texts/DMs/emails like this almost weekly at this point,” Harrison tweeted. “This [expletive] has to stop man.”

In his “Laxtivism 101” series on Instagram, Jovan Miller posted a video on how to stop racism at lacrosse tournaments and expressed solidarity with the True Lacrosse trio.

“I’m with you. All of us are with you,” Miller said. “We’ve been in your shoes before.”

Dugan was aghast. 

“There was some humble irony in it,” he said. “Being an example of sharing the game and trying to share the joy of the game by making it more available around the world to people of color, it was a humble, sad twist of irony.”

In addition to nationally recognized elite teams consisting of the top Florida prospects, Sweet Lax operates a regional development program within the state. It partners with clubs who play a more localized schedule, offering them coaching and training resources while establishing a pipeline of players. There are Sweet Lax affiliates in South Florida (Leatherbacks), the Gulf Coast (Wahoos), Tallahassee (Redfish), Jacksonville (Phins), Jupiter (Sails) and Tampa (Snooks).

Sweet Lax absorbed the Space Coast club in March, right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve since come to learn there had been previous problems with kids and parents from this area being disrespectful and at times racially inappropriate,” Dugan said.

After conducting an investigation that confirmed the reports and included an eye-opening Zoom call with the three Black players and their parents talking about their shared negative experiences in lacrosse settings, Sweet Lax severed ties with the Space Coast Stingrays. The club has partnered with the Black Lacrosse Alliance and US Lacrosse to implement and endorse US Lacrosse’s new anti-harassment and discrimination policy. It includes protocols for reporting and documenting such incidents as well as a corrective action plan. Sweet Lax also will require diversity, inclusion and implicit bias training for all of its coaches, players and staff.  

“The more that you can have a standard set across the board and have these kids feel comfortable and confident that they can report these instances and they’ll be addressed, the more you’ll start to see the bad behavior tail off,” said Jules Heningburg, co-founder of the Black Lacrosse Alliance. “Put yourself in the shoes of an 11- or 12-year-old kid. He’s barely gone through puberty and people are yelling the N-word at him. He’s going to say, ‘I’ll go play basketball or football with my friends, where I’m going to feel more comfortable and I know that stuff is not going to happen to me.’”

Sweet Lax is a member of the National Lacrosse Federation, which has also endorsed the US Lacrosse policy. Similar conversations are happening with the IWLCA, IMLCA and other organizations that operate youth and high school lacrosse events.

“The goal of this resource is twofold,” said Eboni Preston Laurent, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for US Lacrosse. “First, we wanted to create a strong anti-harassment and discrimination policy for all US Lacrosse events so we can lead by example. We don’t stand for harassment, discrimination or intimidation in any form and we want to make it a point of emphasis that it won’t be tolerated at any USL event. The second piece of this is that we wanted to provide other leagues, lacrosse organizations and tournament directors with a template they should replicate and incorporate into their own programming.”

Dugan wants the policy to be in place when Sweet Lax returns to the same site of the episode Dec. 5-6 for the Orlando Open.

“We’re going to make this just as normal as signing a waiver of liability for health,” he said. “Zero tolerance.”

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