By Sarah Cipolla
Two years ago, Jamie Tsao, one of my teammates, was whacked in the head with a lacrosse stick while driving to goal. She was knocked to the ground, curled up into a ball, and squeezed her hand around her head. She was concussed and in excruciating pain. Jamie Tsao had such a bad concussion, she was out for the next month. This is longer than most recoveries because of the extent of her injuries.
The number of girls that play lacrosse has “Almost doubled in the last ten years”, according to the U.S. Lacrosse Association. With so many girls playing, this increases the risk for concussions and other sports-related injuries. The increase in concussions could be due to the fact that female lacrosse players are only mandated to wear goggles and mouth guards. The purpose of lacrosse goggles is to protect the eyes from flying lacrosse balls and sticks. Mouthguards are mandatory because they are used to absorb the impact of a blow to the head and used to protect the player’s teeth. Men’s lacrosse players are mandated to wear helmets because of the sheer physicality of the game. They can full body check each other where in girls lacrosse, only sticks can be checked.
There have been solutions suggested to combat the rise in the number of concussions. For instance, doctors and other medical officials have suggested wearing soft helmets, hard helmets, and concussion headbands. Concussion headbands are a thick layer of foam that runs around the players head. Soft helmets take the shape of a regular bike helmet but are foam instead of hard plastic. These attach to the players goggles. All of which will help protect the brain in the event of a hard hit. More specifically, it would lessen the trauma in a head to stick collision. However, Bill Pennington, a writer for The New York Times, claims, “As with other sports, no headgear, even hard-shell helmets, has been proved to prevent all concussions”. Concussion headgear is a way to prevent some concussions. An observation of NCAA officials is that with the option for girls to wear lacrosse helmets, a drop in concussions has been seen. With that being said, a few southern states have mandated the use of headgear, but many do not choose to wear the headgear.
Some people claim that the use of headgear makes players more confident and willing to take risks they would not have without the helmet. Dana Patton, a lacrosse coach says, “The girls became better, more confident players.” More confident players means a better chance that girls will be safer because they can handle the ball correctly and don't think they will get hurt as easily as without the helmet. On the other hand, some people may get the feeling that using a helmet will make them invincible and would not be afraid to shoot the ball or nudge someone particularly hard.
However, with the invention of new head technology, came an opposition to the proposed solutions. Many parents and head coaches in the NCAA believe that with the installment of new headgear, the game will become more like the men’s full body checking game. The game will become rougher and helmets may encourage harsher play. For those without helmets, harsher play could mean a less safe environment and more head injuries, the head trauma which many are trying to prevent.
Another problem some have with the use of headgear is that it is “A threat to the integrity and spirit of the girls’ game, where the rules generally forbid contact,” according to Pennington from The New York Times. Contact in girls lacrosse is mainly a few bumps while going for a ground ball, but nothing more. Girls can check the ball out of the lacrosse stick, but they must check away from the head in a “J” direction and cannot follow all the way to the ground with the check. These would be considered illegal and result in a turnover, favoring the ball carrying team. Girls lacrosse was made without large helmets to keep it from advancing to the level of aggression that the men's game has. The game was never meant to have headgear. Not long ago, the NCAA did not even require eye goggles.
Being a lacrosse player myself, I believe that helmets are not necessary. Goggles and mouth guards are enough to protect girls lacrosse players because anything more could lead to a game that is too similar to the men's game. The rules of the female game were set long ago and should only be changed with the changing time. If this means adding helmets because of concussion, then so be it, but they are not necessary. I would not want to be put in danger because a helmet wearing player decided to make a risky check next to my head.
With that being said, I also think players, athletes, etc. should have the choice to wear a helmet. Some people may need the helmet to partake in the sport because they had too many concussions, and a helmet may be the only way they get to play lacrosse. I do not think that states like Florida should be able to mandate what a girl wears when they are not mandatory everywhere else.
The last reason I do not believe helmets should be necessary is because they may mess with the play of the game. Helmets are bigger and clunkier than goggles. The pace of the game may slow down because of the size of the helmets. Helmets are heavier in weight than goggles and could add unwanted weight to the head, slowing the speed of the players. The last part my seem minor, but the look of the helmets is not pleasant. They are shaped like cartoon alien heads.
Overall, there are two sides to the lacrosse helmet debate. Those that are in favor of the helmet believe they will lessen the amount of head injuries in girls lacrosse. Those that oppose the helmets believe helmets will create a masculine atmosphere. Increasing the contact and lacrosse risks taken during game play. As for me, I don’t think they should be necessary because I would be affected directly, as a player of the game. Maybe someday in the future, all girls lacrosse players will wear helmets. Or maybe they won’t.