Keep the fights alive in senior lacrosse, but it’s time to tighten the reins in junior ball

Marty O'Neill
Marty O'Neill

Since the last two articles I’ve written have had some commentary on fighting in box lacrosse, I thought I would elaborate on current day conditions of the “fight game” in lacrosse and the notion to ban it from the sport. Personally I’ve always been a fan of rugged lacrosse. In my formative years I was watching the 1970s Shamrock-Burrard playoff blood baths. It was the best of rivalries, the tension was through the roof and it was in line with the bad 70’s era of the Philadelphia Flyers in hockey. Intimidation ruled. Other decades of Canadian lacrosse carried hit men like Brooklin’s Scott McMichael, Victoria’s Rob Desormeaux or Sean Rouse and Ward Sanderson of the Burrards who were looking to drop the gloves whenever they could to give their teams an upper hand.

Since the advent of the NLL and a game of speed and skill fighting has been decreased to the point that it rarely happens and it’s very predictable if it flares up.

So I ask, is fighting really a draw back to our game?

In professional and Senior “A” I say no. The guys who brawl are very informed and aware of the opposition and it is a tactical game inside the game. The coaches usually call the shots for the where and when, how and why. It is rare for a couple of guys to fight after an altercation or hit on the floor nowadays.

The issue that has me worried is the amount of fighting going on in Junior lacrosse and Intermediate lacrosse in Canada. The fights at this level are hyped by a sea of never ending YouTube videos that reveal some kids with a really poor idea about scraping who may hurt someone or themselves.

Traditionally, brawling has been an answer to a cheap shot of your top players or a means to jump start a team struggling in a game gone wrong. YouTube reveals a bunch of kids wanting to get a fight video posted, sometimes even whole teams acting poorly for no good reason.

We were shown an example this past spring with a B.C. Intermediate game video where the home team parents can be heard ridiculing their own team for their actions of malice. The video and others like it are embarrassing for the sport.

I learned a factoid this past summer.

Georges St. Pierre is the most famous Canadian athlete of all time according to Dana White, the head of MMA. Red blooded, hockey based Canadians would scoff at the idea and naturally say Wayne Gretzky is Canada’s most famous athlete.

The world wide appeal of mixed martial arts and cage fighting has made St. Pierre one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. His chosen sport is not my cup of tea but it is a universal phenomenon. So what does that say about our society and our world as a whole?

It says that fighting is part of our culture and it always has been. Good guys, bad guys, movies, cartoons, wars, politics etc. etc. etc. The struggle between opponents in battle makes for good entertainment heightening interest. Last season the NHL playoffs were chalk full of attacks and beat downs. This resulted in their highest TV ratings ever proving once again that scrapping at the professional level of sports adds an element for fan interest and elevated drama.

That is my only reason for saying I like it in our sport. It’s entertaining and we are, as a sport, vying for wider appeal to grow the sport even still at the professional NLL pinnacle.

Indoor lacrosse tried to be a professional sport without a foundation years ago in the USA, meaning there was no minor box lacrosse in the USA (or there wasn’t 30 years ago) when the MILL started playing on the northeastern seaboard.

Of course the MILL was started by promoters looking to create another venture, so they created a lacrosse league. The huge disconnect was that as a sport it could only partner with field lacrosse and its culture and hierarchy. That battle forges on today and if you read my piece last week I provided some insight and history there.

I recently watched a documentary about the Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s and how they revolutionized hockey … twice. Once to flex their muscles and take control of a whole system with pugilism and then the correction in the system that followed to curb their ways. In other word the sport evolved.

The NLL also has evolved to address its problematic issues, including fighting, where the Canadian ranks are very slow to react. The CLA is protective of its current ways because it seeks total control. Its resistance to change is based in perception that it is being “dictated” to by the NLL. That hurts the sport overall and the CLA needs to take progressive steps to clean up the Canadian game at its highest levels. CLax is a good example of doing something to advance the sport with rules and a game plan.

I would support a ban of fighting in box lacrosse if it showed me that it would help grow the sport on a spectator level and at the registration level. As things are now, I’d just like the junior levels of lacrosse tighten up their fighting rules in Canada.

The interesting part about the fighting Flyers documentary was how the team winning the Stanley Cup unified a whole city and gave it hope, pride and an identity.

The sport of lacrosse has been surpassed in every way by the world of mixed martial arts in a short period of time. Revenues, participation and interest is evident on a very large scale across North America while lacrosse can only dream of that kind of exposure and growth.

It seems society as a whole enjoys a good tilt.

O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).

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