In Defense of the Big Hit

Head injuries have always been a major concern in almost all types of athletic competition.  Over the last decade it seems there have been countless studies concerning concussions and concussion symptoms.  More recently concussion awareness has penetrated even the most casual sport fans world as the NFL has caused controversy by laying out some hefty fines to several high profile players.  Naturally concerns in regard to head injuries have made their way to the lacrosse world, with the state of New York almost going as far as to mandate helmets in the girls game at the high school level.  On the Men's side the NCAA has said they will strictly target hits to the head this year.  Even Quint Kessenich chimed in in support of the new rules after seeing them in action in a pre-season scrimmage.

Any rule that makes the game safer for it's athletes is a good one, but The Growth Blog does worry that game officials will feel pressured to call penalties on hits that result in a strong impact but are otherwise legal.  In comparison to the sport of football hitting in lacrosse is obviously very different.  In an average football play there could be big hits all over the field, but nowhere near the ball carrier (i.e. a wide receiver crack blocking a linebacker).  In lacrosse, in almost all cases when a big hit happens, it is the center of attention; the crowd oohhs and ahhs, the sidelines get riled up, and very likely every official had his eyes on the hit.  The question for this year will be will that official throw the flag because it was indeed an illegal hit, or will that official throw it regardless, due to the additional emphasis on head injuries by the NCAA and the media.

One encouraging aspect of the new rule is that an official may give a 1, 2 or 3 min penalty for a hit to the head.  This discretion is needed because all hits are not created equal, and some while they may get flagged, could be pure accidental.  For example, a 6'4" defender slides across the crease to body up a 5'6" attackmen.  The height differential in itself leaves the defender at a disadvantage because any attempt to hit the attackmen will likely result in some level of head contact.  When all is said and done it will certainly be interesting to compare penalty minute statistics with years past to see if there is any tangible difference.

Hitting in lacrosse will continue to be a hot topic as the sport grows.  Take the below video for example.  This is a video done by a main stream sports fan who has only recently been exposed to lacrosse:

This individual makes two points when suggesting what he sees as what lacrosse needs to increase in popularity:

-Increased diversity in the athletes
-A little more hitting

Now the first one is pretty obvious and US Lacrosse has been pushing diversity initiatives for years now. In addition, many in the sport are now focusing their efforts on starting urban lacrosse programs. However, the second point is more interesting. It is something that you may not hear from a serious lacrosse fan, but may be more of a common notion among mainstream sport fans than we realize. We must remember that when we as lacrosse fans describe the sport to someone not familiar with the game we often throw around comparisons to football and hockey. Those are two sports known for their hitting, so we shouldn't be surprised when the casual sports fan demands more from this aspect of the game. It is quite plausible that as the sport penetrates football country in the South and Midwest, you will see communities and regions playing the game who will define their own level of acceptability when it comes to physicality. As the sports geographic reach increases, so will increase the number of opinions as to what is acceptable on the playing field. It will be interesting to see if a national growth of lacrosse results in varying opinions in rule enforcement.  While safety should remain paramount to all involved in lacrosse, here's hoping that lacrosse lovers keep an open mind to a little more hitting.