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New York Riptide holds Lacrosse is for Everyone Night at Nassau Coliseum on March 26 to celebrate inclusion and diversity in the sport

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New York Riptide
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Veteran defenseman Damon Edwards of the New York Riptide checks his opponent

The NLL's New York Riptide will host a match to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the sport with Lacrosse is for Everyone Night on Saturday, March 26 against the Albany Firewolves at Nassau Coliseum.

Riptide defenseman Damon Edwards and former pro and collegiate star lacrosse player and Professor of History at Babson College Dr. Fred Opie join SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the special event and their brilliant careers.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
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Damon Edwards (top left) and Dr. Fred Opie (bottom center) join SportsJam with Doug Doyle

Damon Edwards came to the Riptide after a very successful NLL campaign with the Toronto Rock. While he says he hasn't faced any negativity during his time in the National Lacrosse League, that wasn't always the case growing up.

"I can say definitely in my minor lacrosse days and my Junior-A lacrosse days, I often felt like an outsider. Most of my teams I was the only person of color on my team. That's part of the reason why I created my program "Damon45" is to teach the youth about you know the importance of being inclusive and the importance of diversity."

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Damon Edwards (#45) is a veteran defenseman for New York Riptide

Edwards says he's excited about this "Lacrosse is for Everyone" event.

"This is an amazing way to represent diversity and inclusion and what's needed in our sport of lacrosse for sure. You know it's great that we're recognizing it, but we need to continue to do these positive things, not just on Saturday night but in everyday life too."

Dr. Fred Opie, who hosts his own podcast, followed in the footsteps of NFL legend Jim Brown as a lacrosse player at Syracuse University. Brown's performance at Syracuse earned him a spot in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, as the first African American to be inducted in 1983.

"I also had seen other African American players. Jim Brown was the first African American to make First Team All American in NCAA Lacrosse. Sid Abernethy played at the Naval Academy and he was the second one. I saw Sid play in the heyday of his life. I also saw a guy at West Point, because I grew up in the Hudson Valley, a goaltender named Jose Alivero from Brentwood, not far from Nassau Coliseum, Second Team All American and phenomenal player. So going into Syracuse I did have that context."

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Syracuse defenseman Fred Opie covering a Massachusetts player

Opie admits he faced discrimination during away games during his stint at Syracuse University.

"You got some hostility no matter what you looked like on your team, but then when you get to the another field, some names called to me that were not so nice, but fortunately my two years playing at Syracuse we had a record of something like 20 and 3, all three losses to John Hopkins, two in the national championship and one in a regular season game. So when people were talking smack to me whether it be racial or not, I could just look at the scoreboard and you could pretty much silence them then."

Before his time at Syracuse University, Opie was a two-time NJCAA All American defenseman at Herkimer College in 1982 and 1983. He then continued his collegiate lacrosse career at Syracuse where he played in two national championship games in 1984 and 1985 in which his team lost both years to John Hopkins University. The author and scholar played professionally for the New York Saints in the MILL from 1989 to 1990 and played defense for Team USA's World Championship team in 1990.

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Defenseman Fred Opie on the Team USA's World championship national squad

Dr. Opie says he hopes Saturday's "Lacrosse for Everyone Night" will spark a real change in the sport.

"It touches me and there's a part of me that would want to look deeper and find out you know what is this? Is this, as many of us say, is this lip service or is it reality? I wonder within the league (NLL), very similar to professional football, what do we see in terms of head coaches, assistant coaches, what do we see in terms general managers, I mean all that involved, people who can make their income from this great sport of lacrosse. I think this is great because when I for the New York Saints back in the day, this was never something that was done within the league, this kind of night where we talk about the game is for everybody. I'm thrilled to see it but I also want to make sure that the league does not fall into the same thing that they're doing in the NFL, which is play the Negro National Anthem and think you did something. That is not enough. We need some serious structural change at every level of the game.

For Damon Edwards, he played several sports before making a decision about playing lacrosse or football. Damon's dad Dwight was a star wide receiver and kick returner in the CFL playing for the Toronto Argonauts and several other teams. Eventually, Damon would choose lacrosse in college.

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Damon's father Dwight Edwards was a wide receiver and kick returner in the CFL. In this card, he's playing for the Toronto Argonauts. Damon never got to see his father play professional football. Dwight's career was over before Damon was born.

"My dad will tell you he wasn't upset that I didn't play football (laughing), sometimes I think differently but he was always extremely supportive of whatever I sport I wanted to play. I always had his encouragement. You know him being a professional athlete kind of gave me that the goal that I think can do that too."

Dr. Opie stresses kids starting out in lacrosse need to have fun playing the game, and more importantly to play at a high level, they need to be passionate about the sport.

"I don't think you start too young. Both my kids starting playing formally as second graders. I coached them all the way until they didn't need me to coach them anymore and they did good. But I was also very intentional with making sure it was fun for them. I had a love for the game. I was passionate. I played many different sports, but ultimately I played lacrosse at the collegiate level because I had a love for the game. Are you playing because you want to? I would say to all the parents out there listening, if you buy your child a stick and you're the one telling the kid to go practice, you got a problem."

Saturday's New York Riptide game against the Albany Firewolves gets underway at 7:30pm at Nassau Coliseum.

You can SEE the entire SportsJam interview with Damon Edwards and Dr. Fred Opie here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.