Ninjas, N-words and lacrosse

Jovan Miller in action; top left (Photo www.charlottehounds.com)

Jovan Miller in action; top left (Photo www.charlottehounds.com)

Does President Barack Obama have time for another White House beer summit? The lacrosse community should dial the hotline to arrange a get-together.

It began with an advertising campaign that used the “other” N-word, as in Ninja. Warrior Sports, a sponsor of Major League Lacrosse, was promoting its “Dojo” sneakers with the slogan #NinjaPlease on Twitter and elsewhere.

Black players were offended (I’m sure others were, too), correctly noting that the slogan could only have been inspired by the derogatory phrase “(N-word) please.” They protested. Chazz Woodson wrote on his Facebook page that “I couldn’t sit back and NOT say anything when a campaign, from such a large and influential lacrosse company, says to the Black community — overtly or not … what you think or feel does not matter.”

Jovan Miller gave away his Warrior gear and threatened to retire from MLL. Warrior, a subsidiary of New Balance Athletic Shoe, dropped the slogan, apologized and scrubbed the offensive language from its sites. Miller ended his boycott.

So, we’re all good, right? Not exactly.

It remains puzzling why the company selected the phrase. Warrior marketing director Dave Dixon told Lacrosse Magazine that “it certainly wasn’t meant to offend anyone.” But Dixon wouldn’t answer the most important question, which was how did the ad slogan originate? He replied, “I don’t want to go into other details.”

Next, I’m surprised that the story didn’t spark more media attention. It was covered by Deadspin, BET, NBC’s Charlotte affiliate, as well as Syracuse University media and lacrosse publications. That’s according to my Google News search. With respect, though, I thought it had the makings of a national story by more mainstream press.

Wait, aren’t we living in a post-racial society? Woodson, in a recent column, described his “love/hate relationship” with the sport “because it’s put me in awkward mental and emotional positions numerous times. On three separate occasions, I’ve been called a nigger — to my face, by members of the lacrosse community. Once by an opponent. Twice by teammates.”

Use of “ni**a” is not the only issue when it comes to race relations, but it’s definitely an unresolved one. White people just shouldn’t use it, period. But others disagree. Hello Gwyneth Paltrow.

Meanwhile, Warrior should step up, with some in-house sensitivity training and perhaps (extra) outreach to underserved communities. I’m not crossing my fingers, though. The Lacrosse Magazine story noted that Warrior’s marketing tactics in the past also raised eyebrows, citing products named Penetrator, Stiffi and G-Spot.

Meanwhile, I saw on Warrior’s web site that it also sponsors the prestigious Liverpool football club (at a cost of $40 million per year). Congrats on that. You can buy Liverpool gear there. But it’s worth noting that one of the three players pictured on the site modeling the uniforms is striker Luis Suarez.

The English Football Association suspended Suarez for eight matches last season after concluding that Suarez repeatedly used a racial slur against a black opponent (Patrice Evra of Manchester United). I’m not a marketing specialist, but given the “ninja” controversy, I’d probably crop Suarez out of the photo. I wouldn’t have featured him in the first place. Just sayin.