During his 11-year career in the National Lacrosse League, New York Riptide defenseman Damon Edwards has, fortunately, not been the subject of any type of racist treatment. However, that was not the case when he was younger playing junior and minor league lacrosse.
That was when the Toronto native lived through some hard times on the lacrosse field.
“I had to endure some pretty bad things and some bullying and it was tough for me,” said Edwards who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario. “I thankfully had the support from my teammates and my family, but that’s something that I don’t want for the younger community coming up now.”
Today, the 34-year-old Edwards is one of many black players in professional lacrosse and it’s something he takes great pride in, especially during Black History Month.
One day at a time. One appearance at a youth lacrosse event at a time. One game at a time.
Diversity continues to grow within the sport of lacrosse and Edwards is playing an important role in that.
“Black History Month is a pretty special time for myself,” said Edwards who notched his 100th career point in the Riptide’s 14-12 win over Albany on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
“I believe it’s a time to reflect on the impact that the black community has had on our world and our culture. I believe it’s a time to learn too…to learn about the influence and the impact that the black community has had and also to learn about all of the amazing accomplishments of the black community.”
Within the lacrosse community, there continues to be a rise in the number of black children who have been exposed to the sport and who are playing lacrosse, whether it be box or out on the big field. A number of initiatives have certainly played a role in that including Harlem Lacrosse in New York, “a school based non-profit organization that changes the life trajectories of youth through daily wrap-around academic support, mentoring, leadership training, college readiness, career exploration admissions counseling and lacrosse instruction.”
There are also similar programs in Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
“It’s amazing to see because growing up you looked on either team and it was usually just me that was the black person there,” said Edwards. “I did a couple of things last year in Philadelphia and I did one in New York getting in the inner city. It was pretty special for me. I hope these kids can look at me and say ‘hey I can do this too’. That’s making the game more diverse. It’s good for everyone.”
The lacrosse field is not the only place where Edwards makes an impact on his community. A firefighter in Pickering, Ontario, Edwards speaks to thousands of youngsters throughout North America through his “Damon45” program and has been giving back to his community for over a decade coaching and mentoring youth
In addition to putting out fires and excelling on the lacrosse field, Edwards is also the Director of Athletic Performance/Assistant Coach for the Toronto Beaches Junior A Lacrosse Club and the Head Coach of the Toronto Beaches Novice Minor Lacrosse Club. His accolades also include winning the 2009 Junior A Lacrosse Canadian National Champion Minto Cup and winning the 2019 “Les Bartley Award” given to the person who exemplifies the important of character and commitment to the team and community.
“I love now that I can be a bit of a role model and hopefully try to grow the game in the black community by getting into those areas and just be that face for our team here and hopefully, we can grow the game that way,” said Edwards.
Edwards and the Riptide will be back in action this Sunday when they travel to Halifax for a matchup with the Thunderbirds (1pm ET ESPN+/TSN+). It’s another game on the schedule but it’s also another day on the calendar where Edwards looks to make an impact in the black community as a role model on the field.
Off the field, there is still work to do in terms of racism and that is something that Edwards thinks a lot about during Black History Month.
“It’s time to show that compassion and empathy,” said Edwards. “It’s no secret that the black community has been through a lot in our history. The black community still has to endure a lot so that’s why this is a time to show that compassion and empathy.”
There has been some real progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
“I think we are getting better in that way,” said Edwards. “We still do have a way to go to improve.”
On the lacrosse field, as a coach, as a mentor and as a firefighter, Damon Edwards continues to make an impact on his community and is a true role model for the black community, especially for the youth learning the great game of lacrosse.