by Joanie Butman
While watching the NCAA Lacrosse championships last weekend, one player on the Denver team caught my eye – #33. It had more to do with his style of play than the long braid he sported, though that was certainly distinctive. Observing him was reminiscent of watching the Thompson trio at last year’s lax finals.
For those of you with no interest in college lacrosse, the Thompson trio consisted of brother Miles and Lyle along with cousin Ty, who “captivated the lacrosse world and formed what is regarded as one of history’s best collegiate lacrosse attack lines. The University of Albany student-athletes come from the Mohawk and Onondaga Nations out of upstate New York. They are incredibly dedicated to their people, heritage and traditions.”**
During their stellar lacrosse career the Thompsons became a symbol of hope and inspiration to Native American youngsters following in their wake. Bill Tierney, Denver’s coach, applauded Albany’s Coach Marr for “allowing the Thompsons to play the way they play. It’s a turnover once in a while, but it’s beautiful in the impact it’s hopefully going to have, both from what people see in them and see in the beauty of the game and why they play.”***
My daughter accused me of racial profiling, but I knew just by #33’s game that he shared more than a hairdo with the Thompsons. As the final game was a boring event (from a Terp's point of view), I decided to surf the internet to learn more about #33. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Zach Miller shares a Native American heritage with the Thompsons. They were all raised on reservations in upstate New York and played for the Iroquois Nationals. However, in order to truly appreciate the beauty and spirit of lacrosse to the Native Americans, you have to understand that they consider it much more than a sport. It is “a way of life, part of a deep tradition and faith.”** The Iroquois Nationals’ website explains,
Our Grandfathers told us many stories that would relate to lacrosse and how one should conduct themselves and the importance of the INDIVIDUAL to the game. Lacrosse was a gift to us from the Creator, to be played for his enjoyment and as a medicine game for healing the people. The Haudenosaunee* people know that all creatures, no matter how big or small, are significant and have a contribution to make to the overall cycle of life.
Haven't our ancestors left us similar stories illustrating rules of conduct, the intrinsic value of every individual, and the responsibility to use God's gift of life to serve others? The Bible is full of them.
So what does any of this have to do with choosing wisely, you might be wondering? We can all choose to view these boys as an example of living out our faith in a way that:
- Distinguishes us as members of God’s team.
- Uses our gifts and talents to honor our Creator.
- Respects the value and contribution of every person regardless of size or significance.
- Offers hope and inspiration to others.
Miller’s signature braid may have been a clue to his heritage, but anyone can grow their hair and wear it in a braid. It doesn’t make them an Indian anymore than wearing a cross makes you a Christian. Both are simply meant as outward signs of an inward condition. The bigger question is whether you choose to wear an identifying symbol as decoration or identification as there is a definitive value system attached. Even so, that doesn't mean everyone who wears one lives up to it 100% of the time.
Racial profiling may be taboo from a human perspective, but spiritually speaking, profiling in a Christian sense transcends race and unifies us as members of God’s family – brothers and sisters in Christ. Can’t we all aspire to choose to live out our own beliefs with the passion, dedication and determination that these athletes embody? In the same way I was able to recognize Zach Miller’s Native American style of play, I’d like others to recognize the manner in which I live as indicative of my faith and honoring to my Creator. As the song goes,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Choose to play life with love. As Zach Miller and the Thompsons exemplify, choosing to play for your Creator with a "clear mind because He's always watching" is a winning strategy in any endeavor.
*Haudenosaunee (pronounced hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) means “people who build a house” or “People of the Longhouse.” The name refers to an alliance of six American Indian nations – the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora – that is commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy.