The 'MLL Four' Detail the Emotional Experience of Standing Together

Isaiah Davis-Allen and Chad Toliver approached midfield and stood together in front of a projected American flag on the jumbotron of Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.

Two black lacrosse players stood in solidarity, with their teams on the sidelines during the national anthem — a song that has become, at times, as polarizing as the games themselves this summer.

Nerves poured in as the anthem began.

“My voice was shaking,” Toliver said. “My voice cracked. I was at the 50. At that point, I had chills.”

The demonstration of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and against racial injustice in America was days in the making. Major League Lacrosse’s four black players knew they wanted to do something. But it took time to figure out just how to use this platform — a condensed weeklong season with all six teams quarantined in an Annapolis bubble — to shed light on such an important issue.

All eyes were on Davis-Allen, the Chesapeake Bayhawks midfielder, and Toliver, the Philadelphia Barrage midfielder, as they took the field for the tournament opener July 18. They weren’t thinking about the competition at that moment, but rather the powerful feeling of standing together at the 50-yard line.

As soon as the anthem ended, Davis-Allen looked at Toliver.

“Man, that was awesome,” he said.

“My voice was shaking. My voice cracked. I was at the 50. At that point, I had chills.” — Chad Toliver

Connecticut Hammerheads goalie Kris Alleyne and New York Lizards midfielder Mark Ellis, who has participated in protests on Long Island, are the league’s other black players. The “MLL Four” sometimes stood together, sometimes by themselves. Teammates and coaches started to join them as the games went on. By the final weekend, all four players and Hammerheads assistant coach Bobby Horsey, stood at midfield before a matchup between Boston and Connecticut.

It was an act borne out of multiple conversations among the black players and with the league. The first meeting occurred in Davis-Allen’s hotel room, where the men discussed being black in a predominantly white sport and how they could go about using their platforms for change. Some wanted to kneel. Others did not, especially since the games took place at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Eventually, the players decided they would stand at midfield during the national anthem. They presented their plan to MLL commissioner Alexander “Sandy” Brown and the Players Council. Alleyne, Davis-Allen, Ellis and Toliver shared that they weren’t happy with the lack of attention the league had initially given to the issues of systemic racism and inequality in the wake of the police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Still, they got the OK to go ahead with their demonstration.

After Davis-Allen and Toliver stood shoulder-to-shoulder opening day, Alleyne and Ellis also took centerstage before their teams’ games that evening, scenes that played out in front of a national audience on ESPN networks.

“One of my biggest dreams in my life was to play in a game with a flyover,” Alleyne said. “I hadn’t gotten there yet. The fact that I was at the Naval Academy and hearing the anthem and seeing the flag on the jumbotron, it was emotional.”

“It was bigger than me,” Ellis said. “I knew me standing there would make people ask questions. After that, you put on your helmet and you ball.”

Images of the MLL Four made their rounds on social media. Fans and fellow players shared support, but there were detractors, too.

“Someone called us ‘uneducated cowards.’ It was someone with a Twitter egg avatar talking trash,” Alleyne said. “That was where we were able to use each other.”

The movement within the league also elicited a response from Brown, who met with the four players July 23 to talk about what MLL could do to raise the profile of its black constituents and make it a comfortable place for all. The meeting was tense at times, but productive.

“Today, @MLL_Lacrosse and it’s African American players had a candid, and at times, painful discussion on how the league can better further their interests,” Brown tweeted. “I am pleased to report that together, we outlined critical outcomes. @MLL_Lacrosse stands behind ALL of our players!”

The conversation continued when another underrepresented group decided to use the MLL games as a vehicle to enact change. The Iroquois Nationals, in their fight for inclusion in The World Games in 2022, had a few players in the league looking to amplify that message. Cannons attackman Randy Staats wore a rectangular strip of athletic tape on his helmet with “2022?” written in black marker.


During the Bayhawks-Hammerheads matchup July 24, Chesapeake’s Lyle Thompson and Brendan Bomberry joined Alleyne and Horsey on the 50-yard line in a powerful moment that brought two different ethnic groups together.

Thompson and many of the Native American players supported the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the tournament. The MLL Four, in turn, took the time to learn from Thompson about the Haudenosaunee people.

“I didn’t know anything about Native American culture,” Toliver said. “When I had Lyle Thompson for the first time near me — a guy I’d get in trouble breaking windows trying to emulate — I was a little kid at an ice cream shop. I wanted to know, ‘How do you guys use passports? What’s going on with The World Games?’ I left there way more educated about Native American culture than I did before.”

Alleyne, Davis-Allen, Ellis and Toliver brought the Black Lives Matter conversation to Major League Lacrosse, and they’ll always remember it.

“Years down the line, I am going to be able to say I took steps to change the game of lacrosse,” Toliver said. “I brought attention to an issue that America is having right now. I did it the right way with the right intentions.”

The images of all four black players standing together will be something each cherishes for the rest of his career. On July 23, Toliver had packed his bags to leave Annapolis after the Barrage were eliminated. Ellis had just finished playing with the Lizards. Davis-Allen’s Bayhawks were idle. All three joined Alleyne and Horsey for the national anthem.

“We were the four black players in the MLL in 2020,” Ellis said. “No one can take that away from us. You see what four black individuals do when they come together. They can make things happen.”