Update: Philadelphia announcer 'removed' for taunting Lyle Thompson

Iroquois Nationals Lyle Thompson playing Turkey at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Syracuse, New York in 2015. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Announcer Shawny Hill yelled to the crowd, “Let’s snip the pony tail!” Two fans said they're going to "scalp" Thompson.

During a professional lacrosse game, an “in-arena host” shouted insensitive remarks to the crowd directed toward a Haudenosaunee lacrosse player this past weekend in Philadelphia.

Lyle Thompson, Onondaga, was running with the ball when announcer Shawny Hill yelled to the crowd in the Wells Fargo Center, “Let’s snip the pony tail!”

Thompson kept playing but tweeted about it after the Georgia Swarm beat the Wings, 13-11.

In “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,” said the Georgia-Swarm player. “I know Philly takes pride in their ruthless fans but I didn’t know it was like that lol.... now I know.. just haven’t heard stuff like this since [high school].”

Thompson also clarified on Twitter that the scalping comments came from two people, not the entire crowd.

"The crowd did NOT chant anything about scalping. This was 2 individuals behind swarm bench," he wrote.

Thompson wasn’t the only one surprised by the comment. A fan and Seneca citizen, Darryl Jimerson, sat in the stands with his fiancé. She turned to Jimerson with a did-he-just-say-that expression, he wrote on social media.

The Philadelphia Wings released an apology on Sunday.

“The Philadelphia Wings are deeply apologetic for the insensitive words that were chosen by our in-arena host during last night’s game against the Georgia Swarm. We immediately addressed this inadvertent yet offensive occurrence and are taking the situation very seriously. The Wings do not tolerate discrimination of any sort and are taking swift disciplinary and educational measures to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Dana Feigenbaum, the team's spokesperson, sent a statement to Indian Country Today from the company Monday afternoon.

“Shawny Hill has been permanently removed from his role with the Philadelphia Wings and has been suspended from all in-arena announcing assignments at the Wells Fargo Center. In addition, 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. 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."

Not too long after the Wings’s apology on Sunday, the National Lacrosse League released a statement about the league’s “zero tolerance policy for any derogatory or discriminatory statements made.” The league also states there will be “disciplinary action.”

​Hill sent out an apology on Twitter and hopes to speak with the Thompson Brothers to give a “direct apology.”

“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,” he said. “My words do not reflect my personal beliefs, but represent a lack of knowledge on 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.”

​Fact of the matter is people, especially Native people, constantly wrote on social media that such incidents continue to happen at the high school level. They just didn’t expect it to happen at a professional level -- but look at the Washington team situation.

That’s football and this is lacrosse. A game known as the “Creator’s Game” and originating from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a confederacy made up of six nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora.

The game is medicine to the Haudenosaunee but certainly wasn’t treated as such. Professional lacrosse player Bill O’Brien wrote in his blog that the U.S. Lacrosse Convention was happening in the same neighborhood. Besides a few vendors giving their “respects through displays,” the convention didn’t do much to celebrate the history of the game.

“Alfie Jacques was there sharing the history of the game, which is an honor because he lives’ the true values of the game” he wrote. “Other than those few, it was more a celebration of what is to come, the lacrosse celebrities and companies trying to turn a profit, build brand awareness - all the things that come with conventions.”

People on social media were quick to point how the irony of the situation with that history in mind and Thompson’s record-breaking lacrosse background. The three-time All-American was drafted first in the Major Lacrosse League to the Florida Launch in 2015. He also played for the Iroquois Nationals at the international level. He and his three brothers -- Jeremy, Jerome Jr., and Miles -- created a name for themselves and play professionally. They’re well-known in the lacrosse world.

Lyle Thompson is the first lacrosse player to ever win the Tewaaraton Award twice and consecutively during his career at the University of Albany in New York. And also was the first Native American to do so with his brother Miles Thompson. The award is often referred to as the sport’s Heisman.

Creators of the prestigious award, The Tewaaraton Foundation, gave their support to the two-time award honoree and wants the world to know about the “historic and contemporary contributions of Native American people.”

U.S. Lacrosse acknowledged the origination of the game in their statement late Sunday along with a link to their creation of the U.S. Lacrosse Native American Advisory Council last year.

“US Lacrosse strongly condemns the hurtful and unacceptable comments made by an announcer at the Philadelphia Wings game last night, as well as the inappropriate fan behavior that followed. Our sport traces its roots to the Native American community, and that legacy should be embraced and celebrated by everyone in our sport.

“As the national governing body of lacrosse, US Lacrosse provides national leadership, structure, and resources to fuel the sport’s growth and enrich the experience of participants. The unfortunate incident last night highlights the need for further education about the roots of the game and stronger cultural competency. US Lacrosse is committed to fostering a deeper appreciation for the Native cultures and individuals who contribute so much to the sport.”

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Hours after publishing this story, the Georgia Swarm announced their solidarity with Thompson, the Thompson family, and all the Native players "negatively impacted" by Hill's comment.

"The Swarm is proud to have seven Native athletes on our roster. Lacrosse is a Native sport, and is built on strong values and sportsmanship. The Swarm is proud to host our long-standing Native Heritage Night every season to honor the sport, and to help educate our fanbase on the history and tradition of the game."

The team is also collaborating with the National Lacrosse League, the Wings and Native players on the Swarm to create educational programs to prevent future situations like this.

Over the weekend and well into this morning, many lacrosse players supported Thompson via social media. Native lacrosse players, such as Tehoka Nanticoke of Six Nations, posted photos of their hair.

“I HAVE A BRAID. I AM PROUD. I have a lot of love and respect for the game that my ancestors gifted to us all. I have had my fair amount of racist remarks said towards me, since I was young to even now,” Nanticoke wrote on Instagram. “I believe uneducated lacrosse fans/people/players should look up on the history of the game. There is not appropriate place for racism in lacrosse or this world.”

​O’Brien, a long-time friend of the Thompson brothers, said the incident was “completely disrespecting and making light of atrocities that plagued indigenous cultures for hundreds of years” and does not “believe this individual represents a mass sentiment of the City of Philadelphia and have spoken with people who’ve apologized on his behalf. This is certainly unfortunate but can hopefully shine a light on issues that still face Natives today. Announcing a game while teasing a player for his game play is one thing, disrespecting a culture or person for their heritage or culture is out of line.”

​He also educated his followers and said, “I have braided hair and I am proud of it. Long hair represents different things to different cultures and people. Historically Native Americans had long hair to spiritually connect to Mother Earth. In other cultures long hair can increase your power of perception, or be a sign of a warrior.”

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter - @jourdanbb. Email - jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com.