December 5, 2012

Miller Ends Boycott, Plans Return to MLL in 2013

by Matt DaSilva | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Related: Woodson on Race and Lacrosse


After boycotting Warrior Lacrosse products over a racially insensitive marketing slogan, Charlotte Hounds midfielder Jovan Miller said he would like to use his popularity in the MLL as a public-speaking platform on matters of race.
© Peyton Williams

updated 12.07.12 at 9:54 a.m.

Jovan Miller, whose Twitter-infused boycott of an equipment manufacturer's goods brought to light racial sensitivities in lacrosse, said in a wide-ranging interview with Lacrosse Magazine that he intends to play for the Charlotte Hounds in the spring.

Miller's comments came a little less than a month after he threatened to retire from Major League Lacrosse in the wake of what he called a racially insensitive slogan used by the league's biggest sponsor, Warrior Lacrosse.

"At first, I was definitely adamant about retiring. If this is the kind of thing you're going to promote, I'm not going to be a part of it. That was the stance I took. After they dropped the slogan, my case is over," Miller said. "I would kill my platform by not playing. It would kill everything I've worked for up until this point by showing them, 'You've won.'"

Warrior used the slogan #NinjaPlease, known as a pseudonym for "N-word please," to promote a new product giveaway in social media. The phrase also appeared on the company's website and in messages re-tweeted by the MLL.

Miller said he caught wind of the campaign Oct. 25 from a Twitter follower, St. Andrew's University goalie Daniel Bradley, who asked if he should be offended by the slogan as it appeared next to an image of a prominent Warrior-endorsed player. Miller's reply: "Be offended."

A similar dialogue ensued over email, Miller said, with several black lacrosse players, including Ohio Machine attackman Chazz Woodson, LXM Pro Tour progenitor Kyle Harrison and players Sam Bradman, Rhamel Bratton and Shamel Bratton.

"It was offensive to all of us, but we were being diplomatic about the situation," said Miller, who is endorsed by Maverik Lacrosse and recently took a job as an assistant men's lacrosse coach at Queens University in Charlotte. "You do want to tread lightly when you're so outnumbered. But in my case, I just couldn't hold my tongue any longer."

On Nov. 5, Miller made the debate public. He took to Twitter, vowed to give away all of his Warrior equipment and threatened to retire from the MLL. He later tweeted that he spent more than $200 shipping the equipment from his residence in Charlotte. The boycott made national news when Deadspin reported on it Nov. 8. The MLL and Warrior had already removed any references to the slogan in their social media outlets.

Warrior chief marketing officer Dave Dixon called Miller to apologize for the campaign.

"We're not running that campaign anymore. It was already over. It certainly wasn't meant to offend anyone," Dixon told Lacrosse Magazine. "It was never the intent of the marketing program."

Asked what was the origin of the slogan, Dixon replied, "I don't want to go into other details."


Miller collected his Warrior -issued equipment and took this picture prior to giving it away. He later tweeted that he spent more than $200 shipping the items.
© Twitter

Miller said Warrior should have responded to him sooner.

"They're a million-dollar company. Who am I? I'm just a speck," he said. "They took so long to say something, it's obviously something to question."

In a column for LaxMagazine.com, Woodson wondered who the gatekeepers were at Warrior.

"To me, it's not the words that are the biggest issue," Woodson wrote. "After all, neither Warrior nor their marketing team made up the phrase, 'ninja please.' I'm disturbed by the fact that the campaign was cleared. Either the marketing team did a poor job of researching this... or nobody had the gumption to pull the plug on it."

Warrior has run afoul in its marketing tactics before, Miller said, noting that the company has put out sexually suggestive lacrosse products named Penetrator, Stiffi and G-Spot. Warrior Lacrosse also released a shaft called Dolomite, which could be interpreted as a reference to Dolemite, the name of a fictional pimp in a 1975 movie many saw as exploitative to blacks.

"This isn't the first time they pushed the envelope," Miller said. "It led me to think that this is blatant."

Miller's following on Twitter ballooned to more than 5,000 in the wake of his boycott, but not all followers supported his cause. He re-tweeted several messages in which he was called the n-word and a hypocrite, among other epithets.

 

At Syracuse, Miller said he was criticized for his goal celebrations and unfairly grouped with Virginia's Bratton brothers because of his race. (Pictured above right: Miller against Rhamel Bratton in a March 4, 2011 contest at the Carrier Dome.)
© Greg Wall

On Nov. 11, US Lacrosse issued a statement in support of Miller's "advocacy and courage" in drawing attention to racial sentivities in the game.

"Our vision is that every child should have the opportunity to benefit from a positive lacrosse experience," said Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of US Lacrosse. "Racially derogatory comments and references impede the advancement of lacrosse and have no place within our sport."

It's not the first time Miller has found himself in the middle of an uncomfortable confrontation about stereotypes in lacrosse. As a freshman midfielder at Syracuse in 2008, he said a teammate made a racially charged joke about what he should be for Halloween.

"He didn't see what was wrong with it. I approached him about it. He didn't want to hear me. So I went to coach [John] Desko and told him, 'I'm not coming back to practice until you address this.' I missed two days of practice, he addressed it, I came back, I talked to the kid and it was over. But I made my stance there," Miller said. "This is an example of being the token black kid."

Miller cited several more examples, from fans suggesting he grow an "afro" hairdo, to supporters at Syracuse questioning his academic commitment, to people calling him cocky because he points to the sky after he scores a goal. Even childhood friends, he said, had parents who called his youth lacrosse coaches in opposition to him qualifying for select teams.

In college, Miller found he often was compared to the Bratton twins, who were dismissed from Virginia for multiple violations of team rules in 2011. Some contended the Cavaliers, who went on to win the NCAA championship, were better off without them.

"When the Brattons messed up, they didn't just mess up for themselves," Miller said. "They messed up for African-Americans like me who do things right, because we're grouped together that way. I hated getting messages when people would say, 'Jovan is a better role model than the Brattons.' I'm not trying to be a better role model than them. Why are you even putting us in the same sentence?"

Similar generalizations, Miller said, have followed him into professional lacrosse.

"I feel like I'm not supposed to fit in here," he said. "What is acceptable? Look at lacrosse right now. Do I have long floppy hair? No I don't. Do I wear lacrosse pinnies on my futon? No I don't. Do I wear mid-calves with boat shoes? No I don't. That's what's acceptable."

But that won't keep Miller from rejoining the MLL ranks in the spring. After launching his own social media campaign called #EducateNotSegregate, the third-year pro and 2012 all-star midfielder would like to use his popularity in the league as a public-speaking platform on matters of race.

"[The boycott] was such a good experience for everybody to look at ourselves," he said. "We all have prejudice within us."


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