Tyson Bell: Halifax Thunderbirds defender/transition player. 2019 NLL champion with the Calgary Roughnecks. Team Canada member at 2018 worlds. 2x NJCAA national champion. From St. Catharines ON, home of the storied junior A Athletics. Lacrosse pro with unreal flow, and all-around cool dude.
But social justice warrior?
NLL.com interviewed Bell during Black History Month about his interest and involvement in the issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, as well as the Black Lives Matter and Every Child Matters movements, as part of the NLL Unites initiative.
NLL.com: Lacrosse fans know you as a warrior on the turf, but maybe not so much as a social justice warrior off the floor. What are your interests in the issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, and why are these important to you?
TB: “To me, equality means you must see someone as an equal before you can embrace their unique traits and characteristics. Inclusion to me means making every single person you encounter feel valued and included. With diversity the differences can be within a certain setting whether it be beliefs, life choices, ethnicity or sexual identification.”
NLL.com: You are related to Halifax assistant coach/2009 NLL Defensive Player of the Year Billy Dee Smith and Buffalo’s leading scorer/2016 NLL MVP Dhane Smith (as well as former Bandits star/2008 NLL Transition Player of the Year Mark Steenhuis by marriage). How are these relationships and their experiences important to how you approach the issues of diversity, inclusion and equality?
TB: “Yes. We are related through my father’s side. These relationships are very important to me. They are family so I will back them at any moment. It’s nice to see how well they have done in their careers with lacrosse and just everyday living. It’s important for me to know what they have gone through playing a white-based sport and how they overcame their obstacles.”
NLL.com: Is lacrosse just one big family?
TB: “Lacrosse is definitely family-oriented. My teammates are my brothers away from home.”
NLL.com: What is your interest in the Black Lives Matter movement?
TB: “I got involved in the Black Lives Matter movement because of my father’s side of the family being Black and not knowing what he had to go through as a child living in Canada, and also simply for the fact when the movement started with the Trayvon Martin killing. My aunt Tasha Bell has also been really involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. She created a business page that features and spotlights Black-owned businesses. It’s been pretty cool to have family involved in really important movements, and to also be a part of it by going to protests to show my support as a Black man.”
NLL.com: You’ve also shown an interest in the Every Child Matters movement. What’s your involvement with that?
TB: “With the Every Child Matters movement a lot of my best friends, teammates, coaches and family friends have native heritage and are Indigenous, which really hit me. Not knowing much about how rough they had it growing up and still have ongoing issues really makes me wonder what kind of world we live in. It’s sad to be honest. I’m going to share something my [Thunderbirds] captain Cody Jamieson shared. To him, ‘The Every Child Matters movement for me signifies hope. It makes me hope that our children have a brighter future, and will have the same opportunities as other children. It also gives me hope that people are listening, and growing from past experiences. That the trauma will never be forgotten, but should be learned from. Only then will we truly be able to reconcile.'”
NLL.com: You’re active on social media (@UnrealFlow44 on Twitter and Instagram). How important is using your platform as an NLL player?
TB: “I think it’s important as a professional athlete to use my platform so I can engage with what’s going on with a larger audience by sharing posts, retweeting and posting content surrounding important topics and so people can reach out and ask questions. But there are also cons that come with it. It automatically allows you to be judged, and you have to allow for the backlash of people who don’t agree with what I feel or believe in.”
NLL.com: You’ve travelled around North America and the world thanks to the game of lacrosse. What have you learned through those experiences?
TB: “Travelling the world to play something I love is a true blessing and I do not take it for granted. Everything is earned and not given. To me, I just think if you have an interest in something, to stick with it and live it out as much as you can. When I went to Israel for the  world championships, on one of our days off we went to Jerusalem to sightsee. Travelling in a big group with our Team Canada polo shirts on stood out and gave some attention to everyone there. I remember talking to a few people and kids about why we were there, so I had to show pictures of the game and videos of how it was played. They were all amazed and seemed to love it.”
NLL.com: What can the game of lacrosse teach NLL fans, and people in general, about diversity, inclusion and equality?
TB: “The game of lacrosse can teach fans to treat one another as equal, and to embrace unity as one. As professional athletes I think it’s important to be role models and leaders, and do the right thing, help grow the sport, and welcome players of all ethnicities and gender.”
See Bell and his Halifax Thunderbirds teammates in action next Saturday, Mar 5 at 6:00 p.m. ET when they host the Vancouver Warriors in an Alterna Cup matchup on TSN for the Sports Interaction Game of the Week and ESPN+.