On December 2nd the New York State Public High School Athletic Association will vote on a referendum to require men’s lacrosse helmets to be worn in women’s lacrosse. While the intentions are good, I feel they are ill conceived.
The women’s version of lacrosse is a much different game than the men’s version. Whereas men’s lacrosse resembles football with metal sticks, the women’s game has far less contact and, has rules to keep things that way. As can be deduced, the women are not required to wear helmets and don’t wear shoulder, hip, elbow or chest pads (other than the goalies). The rules of the game designate an imaginary “halo” around the player’s head and, if that “halo” is penetrated by an opponents stick, it is considered a penalty and, depending upon the intent, could result in a yellow or red card. Contact with other parts of the body, depending upon the type of play, could also result in penalties.
The referendum being proposed came about as a result of an increase in concussions in women’s play. However, I contend the increase is not due to the lack of protection, rather, it is the result of an increase in the number of teams and players participating in the sport. Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in North America. The growth in popularity will naturally result in a growth in lacrosse-related injuries. Because it is growing at such a phenomenal rate, there is a struggle to find enough high-quality referees with a thorough knowledge of the rules. As anyone who has played an organized sport can tell you, a game can quickly get out of hand if the referee or umpire has not established control or does not have a complete understanding of the sport. A poorly refereed contest could result in chaos or even injuries.
I believe putting helmets on women playing lacrosse will only encourage more vicious hitting with sticks above the neckline. And, to take that further, swats intended towards the helmet that miss their target, will end up cracking collarbones or bruising shoulders. This will only propagate further legislation requiring shoulder pads which in turn, following the same type of argument, will result in elbow pads, padded shorts and hockey-style gloves – all currently used in men’s lacrosse. Suddenly, the game that had it’s own, unique, form of play becomes a duplication of the men’s game.
The irony in all of this is that helmets, in any sport, have not yet been shown to reduce the number of concussions. In fact, the men’s helmet is designed to prevent skull fractures and scalp abrasions. So, there is no evidence that the referendum would have any effect at all in the number of concussions in women’s lacrosse. Quite simply, further research is required.
In the meantime, the best solution is to better educate everyone as to the rules of the sport. Train more “experts” to keep up with its growth. Get more experienced and knowledgeable referees involved at all levels and in all areas of the country. Right now, I believe the sport is just experiencing “growing pains” and we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions that could endanger the very reason that women’s lacrosse is so unique and popular.