Indigenous Youth Lacrosse Teams Say League Banned Them for Reporting Racist Abuse

By Sameer Rao Apr 05, 2018

The Dakota Premiere Lacrosse League (DPLL) season begins Sunday (April 8)—without the participation of three predominantly Indigenous, youth teams. Players and coaches from 7 Flames, Susbeca and Lightning Stick Society lacrosse teams told Deadspin yesterday (April 4) that the South Dakota league did not expel them for the protocol violations it claims they committed, but for complaining about racist treatment.

The coaches and players claimed that DPLL administrator Corey Mitchell—who also coaches the Sioux Falls Spark—ignored and diminished the racist abuse they experienced. Two players, who requested anonymity because of anticipated backlash, told Deadspin that opposing players frequently called them "prairie nigger" and "savage." One of them added that a referee told his team to "go back to the reservation." The coaches echoed these claims and said that opposing coaches would encourage the players. 

"We were playing the Black Hills Shock, and it kept every ounce of me to keep my cool," recounted Kevin DeCora, a coach for the majority-Indigenous Lightning Stick Society. "I was really upset. They were teasing us about the tomahawk chop. ‘Oh they got sticks now, look at them Indians tomahawk chop.’ These were coaches to 12-, 13-, 14-year-old kids. Our boys, some of them were upset. They take it with a grain of salt, they know they are going to experience it, but when they do, it hurts.”

Only five of the remaining eight DPLL teams responded to Deadspin’s request for comment on the allegations. Three, including the Black Hills Shock, denied any racism from players or coaches. Two, including the Spark, referred all inquiries to Mitchell, who did not reply to Deadspin’s inquiries.

Steve Stenersen of U.S. Lacrosse, the regulatory organization for youth lacrosse programs, provided Deadspin a letter from Mitchell that lists his reasons for expelling the aforementioned teams. Mitchell cited alleged violations that included not properly registering players and coaches, not showing up to games and "unwarranted hostility toward officials, opponents and league administrators."

The three expelled teams’ coaches denied most of these charges, saying that any violations stemmed from league delays in processing certification paperwork or extenuating circumstances. For instance, a coach for 7 Flames said its under-14 team missed one game because it "had a lot of players leaving at the very end of the year to go back to their grandparents or their reservation." The coaches added that other teams committed similar violations without expulsion—an accusation apparently confirmed by a violation log that Deadspin acquired from an unnamed source and cited without publishing.

Deadspin also cited unpublished audio of a phone conversation between Mitchell and Ali Vincent, a volunteer grantwriter for 7 Flames who provided the audio to the website. Quotes from the call show that Mitchell fielded multiple complaints about racism from the Indigenous teams’ coaches:

In the recording, Mitchell said, “I don’t want to associate with guys like Cody [Hall, director of 7 Flames], who always want to make it more than just a game.” He continued: “Whenever there’s a conflict that comes up with Cody’s teams it’s never because the ref exists inside the human condition and people make mistakes, it’s because he’s always saying there’s a racial issue involved.”

Mitchell told Vincent that he had indeed refused Hall’s request that more be done to curtail incidents of racial abuse in the league. “He asked me to address racial training or something at referee clinics and coaches clinics. That’s not part of the curriculum U.S. Lacrosse delivers, and quite honestly, I don’t believe—I know there’s racism out there and there are people who are racists and I get it. But what I’m saying is that my focus has to be on training our officials to recognize and call when there’s a penalty,” he said.


In the audio recording provided by Ali Vincent, she asked Mitchell if any of the majority-White teams that served suspensions for various violations were being kicked out of the league. Mitchell replied, “They served their suspensions.” When Vincent responded that 7 Flames did too, he answered, “But then your team didn’t show up, I mean…”

“But then you never brought that up until today,” Vincent said. “We thought that was dealt with and now in the category of a non-issue. We served our suspension. Who else is there to deal with? You either communicated to us that it was a problem, or you did not.”

“I did not,” replied Mitchell.

“Now it is 2018. And you are just now saying this in passing. We’ve never received anything in writing, or seen anything in writing relating to any of that,” Vincent said.

Mitchell responded, “Well, I don’t know.”

Indigenous coaches and players noted that they will pursue various options to either reinstate their teams or find other leagues. One player acknowledged the cultural connection they and other players, who predominantly come from local Lakota and Dakota tribes, have with the game and its origins among mid-Atlantic Indigenous peoples.

“We play this for the Creator, for our ancestors,” he said. “But now Corey has taken us away from the league. It’s hard to think about. But we still play. We still practice. We still play the Creator’s Game. And that’s enough for now.”

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