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Former Syracuse lacrosse player Jovan Miller’s action causes equipment company to pull controversial slogan
Former Syracuse midfielder Jovan Miller announced on Twitter last Monday that he would retire from lacrosse if Warrior Sports did not drop its “#NinjaPlease” marketing campaign.
Miller said it means “N-word please.”
The sportswear company that outfits all eight Major League Lacrosse teams encouraged Twitter users to tweet with the hashtag #ninjaplease for a chance to win a pair of Dojo training shoes. Promotional posters were also released with the #ninjaplease slogan.
Miller, who plays for the MLL’s Charlotte Hounds, first became aware of the slogan when retired midfielder and three-time All-American Kyle Harrison called him about it. An email chain starting on Oct. 25 among current and former black lacrosse players followed, including Harrison, Shamel and Rhamel Bratton, Sam Bradman, Milton Lyles, Brendan Porter and Chazz Woodson.
“We had a collective idea on what we were going to say,” Miller said. “It was me who put it out there because I’m probably the most popular of all the black players, so once I said something I knew we would get a lot of feedback.”
On Nov. 5, Miller went public.
In the week since, Miller witnessed a groundswell of mixed reactions before Warrior removed any traces of the slogan on Thursday. Miller said Warrior Sports Chief Marketing Officer Dave Dixon spoke with him for five minutes on the phone last Friday and apologized. Miller said he now plans to continue his career.
Much of the feedback Miller received was positive, he said, though hateful responses on Twitter and an initial argument with an unnamed teammate who did not understand his position caused him to speak out.
Miller said he is basically done publicly protesting the campaign and his decision to go public was meant to express his own feelings in addition to educating young players. The backlash and the campaign have roots in what he sees as deeper problems within the game of lacrosse and the country.
“I usually call us a pot of assorted fruits and vegetables; that’s what I call America,” Miller said. “It shows how sad it is that I can’t speak up or I can speak up and be convicted about how I’m feeling, but people still question it and think I just want to be seen.”
Miller retweeted several negative reactions throughout the week, many of which contained racial slurs.
Much of the criticism of Miller’s protest came from people unfamiliar with lacrosse, he said.
Before he publicized his complaint, Miller called former SU head coach Roy Simmons to ask him to vouch for his character. He also reached out to Jim Brown to hear his thoughts on the issue, but received no response.
The Hounds and Chief Operating Officer Wade Leaphart did not make an official statement on Miller’s protest. But on Saturday, Leaphart did tweet “#ninjaplease Agree or disagree, the malicious tweets aimed at @jovination23 are pathetic. Be constructive; learn, grow, carry on.”
Throughout the controversy as well as his career, Miller said he has been torn between deciding to speak out on racial issues and coming off as “an angry black man.” He recalled a conversation he had in the summer of 2008 in which the parent of an opposing player told him to worry about getting through school instead of getting on the field at SU.
Miller said he could not tell his parents, fearing their reaction. Adults set in an opposing viewpoint are unlikely to be moved by his protest, he said, but he felt he could teach uninformed observers.
“This whole experience I thought was a very bold stance, it was a very cutthroat stance, it was more meant to educate the kids and obviously tell Warrior I didn’t appreciate the subtlety of their slogan,” Miller said.
Woodson, who plays for the MLL’s Ohio Machine, said he was not personally offended by the slogan, but its clearance through Warrior Sports marketing bothered him.
Yet he also saw the issue as an opportunity to discuss lacrosse in terms of race, privilege and the sport’s overall image.
“Lacrosse has always been viewed as an exclusive, rich sport for Northeast prep-school white kids and there’s so much talk about how, ‘No, that’s not the case,’ but then at the same time there still are very much issues of race that exist in this sport; whether we want to look at it or not, they’re still there,” Woodson said.
US Lacrosse came out in support of Miller on Sunday, applauding his intolerance of racism and expressing that a “culture of inclusion” is “essential to our sport’s responsible development.”
“Racially derogatory comments and references impede the advancement of lacrosse and have no place within our sport,” said Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of US Lacrosse.
Ultimately, Miller feels he did make a difference as the slogan was dropped.
“It was more just to help people and not separate or segregate them,” Miller said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity and to know that there are more people with me than against me.”
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