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December 19, 2012

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Stevens: CLA's Fighting Stance Deserves Standing Ovation

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Related: CLA Says No to Fighting

Fighters in Canada's amateur box leagues will be ejected from games, effective for the 2013 season. "There is no fighting in field lacrosse. Why is it OK to do it in box lacrosse?" CLA president Joey Harris said.
© Tim Prothero/vintagelax.com

Members of the Canadian Lacrosse Association's board of directors deserve a round of applause for their recent decision to amend rules so that players who fight are kicked out of games.

Bravo, one of the last holdouts falls by the wayside. Fewer of those bench brawls for which the box game is famous will be showing up on YouTube.

Fighting has long resulted in ejection during Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) world field and indoor tournaments and in NCAA field lacrosse games. Now players in Canada's amateur box lacrosse leagues will be learning how to score goals without worrying that some bully might punch them the head. It's about time.

Greater awareness of permanent damage from concussions combined with anti-bullying campaigns being waged in schools make this an era in which any sport that fails to protect its athletes' best interests is going down the wrong path if not downright negligent.

The National Lacrosse League, while not banning fighting outright, has taken successful steps in recent years to curb fighting by introducing game misconducts for intimidation with fists. Instigators and aggressors beware.

There will always be holdouts. Some cavemen declined to have anything to do with fire. Just days after the CLA board's historic meeting, the directors of the Western Lacrosse Association, a senior league in British Columbia, voted to oppose the CLA's stance.

"We don't have final say over all the leagues in the country but any provincial team playing for a national championship must play by CLA rules," CLA president Joey Harris said Monday. "A chance such as this will result in some hiccups but as long as everybody moves forward I believe the sport will be all the better for it.

"We've received a lot of positive response."

One of those commending the CLA is Philadelphia Wings NLL star Brodie Merrill, who came up through Canada's minor lacrosse ranks.

"I'm in favor of the recent rules change," Merrill said. "There is still so much we do not know about head trauma and I think it is important to take a proactive stance."

US Lacrosse president and CEO Steve Stenersen contacted CLA executive director Melissa McKenzie to congratulate the board on its decision.

"The passive acceptance of fighting in amateur sport is in total conflict with the intended values of participation and, in my view, indefensible," Stenersen told Lacrosse Magazine later.

"We know we're going in the right direction," Harris said. "The medical concerns running through all sports are not something to ignore and there also is the image of lacrosse to take into consideration. Most people on our executive board played the game and many are still involved. I coach my son in tyke lacrosse. There is no fighting in field lacrosse. Why is it OK to do it in box lacrosse?"

Harris was with Canada's team at the 2011 world indoor tournament in Prague. It won gold, and Rory Smith was a significant contributor. The rambunctious Colorado Mammoth defenseman was notorious for his NLL fights. Under FIL rules, he couldn't fight in Prague. Even when he had a front tooth knocked out the gloves never came off because he knew his team could not afford to play a man down for five minutes and to also lose that player for the rest of the game. Smith thrived in Prague. He even scored a goal.

"The medical concerns running through all sports are not something to ignore and there also is the image of lacrosse to take into consideration."

— Canadian Lacrosse Association president Joey Harris

"I loved watching him play," Harris said. "It was great lacrosse, and we didn't see any fighting."

How to grow the sport?

Not with fighting. Violence turns off some parents who, with fears of their own kids involved in prolonged lacrosse brawls, yanked their kids from lacrosse before they reached their teens and placed them in sports they considered less violent.

"It's the fastest game on two feet — fast and skilled," Harris said. "That's where we want the focus to be."

Stewart Begg has supervised referees during many FIL tournaments in his role as CLA vice president of international competitions.

"The CLA has taken a positive step forward in following the position of our international federation," Begg said. "I can't speak for other countries but would suggest they beat the same drum.

"It is only prudent that the CLA responsibly govern the sport in Canada, reduce any unnecessary risk to participants and perhaps demonstrate some leadership on this issue. The best games internationally and in Canada are those that are close, physical, fast and skillful. This is already the way the game is played at a world championship by the best players in the world. Why shouldn't we have the same expectations on home soil?"

Lacrosse, Canada's other national sport, is showing that it is in step with the times. Fighting in hockey? Let them have it.

Make that a standing ovation for the CLA.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.


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