PHILADELPHIA — Known for having the most headstrong fans, the Philadelphia Wings welcomed the visiting Minnesota Swarm last Saturday for their first NLL match up at the Wells Fargo Center.
Although the Swarm quickly clipped their wings and brought home victory 13-11, Philadelphia’s in-game announcer Shawny Hill called for star forward Lyle Thompson’s “ponytail” to be cut off.
Traditionally, long hair is both an extension of and a display of the heritage from which Thompson, from the Onondaga Nation, N.Y., hails from. His brothers Jerome, Miles and Jeremy each wear a braid as well for the same reason as representative players of their nation and families.
Thompson later took to Twitter to write: “2019 and the @NLLwings arena announcer saying ‘let’s snip the pony tail’ to the whole arena and fans saying they’re going to scalp me…. damn Daniel,” as he remarked that he hadn’t heard “stuff like this’ since high school.
Thompson also pointed out that two Wings fans seated behind the Swarm bench also made comments about scalping.
The situation wasn’t taken lightly by Swarm and Thompson fans, and Philadelphia promptly made the decision to remove Hill from all in-arena announcing assignments at the Wells Fargo Center.
“The Wings are working closely with the National Lacrosse League to implement ongoing diversity training for all employees which will include a focus on the Native North American roots and traditions of the sport,” read the Wings statement on Monday. “The Wings remain deeply apologetic for the offensive comments that overshadowed Saturday night’s game and are fully committed to furthering a culture of respect.”
This prompted the Swarm to release a statement, as the team hosts seven First Nations players including the Thompsons: “We stand behind all of our players, and in this particular instance, we stand in unity with Lyle, the entire Thompson family and all of our native players who were negatively impacted by the derogatory comment that was made Saturday night in Philadelphia. The comment that was made will not be tolerated and does not reflect the core values of our league or the great sport of lacrosse.
The Swarm is proud to have seven native athletes on our roster. Lacrosse is a native sport, and it is built on strong values and sportsmanship. The Swarm is proud to host our long-standing native heritage night every season to honour the sport, and to help educate our fanbase on the history and tradition of the game. We are working closely with the NLL, the Wings and all of our native players to help implement additional educational programs to help prevent a situation like this from ever arising again.”
As the administrators of residential schools in Canada and the United States would cut the hair of Indigenous children in one of many steps designed to separate the kids from their heritage, families and communities, many First Nations people in Canada and the United States now wear their hair long in memory of those children and as an extension of Indigenous culture.
Although claiming to be unaware of the racial impact of his words, Hill released a public apology on Sunday writing: ”I am deeply sorry for my insensitive statements during last night’s game. My words were poorly chosen and were not intended as racially motivated. I understand the profound hurt my words have caused. I offer my sincere apology. My words do not reflect my personal beliefs, but represent a lack of knowledge on and heritage and history. I am in the process of reaching out to speak directly to the Thompson brothers in hopes of providing a direct apology.”
Before Hill’s firing, the NLL called his comments “inappropriate” and promised disciplinary action that took effect almost immediately.