Florida has incurred much debate with the state’s recent rule to require headgear for girls’ lacrosse. Boys’ lacrosse players have worn hard-shell helmets with face protection for years and goal tenders on girls’ team have worn helmets for several decades. The state’s new ruling requires a soft protective device and many of the players use a thick headband-like device.
Lacrosse is the fifth ranking cause of sports-related concussions in girls, but in spite of the evidence which supports head protection the Florida decision has produced much outcry. Ann Carpenetti, Vice President at US Lacrosse referred to the Florida decision as “irresponsible” claiming that headgear might make the game more hazardous and increase aggressive play. Coaches, like Nikki Krakower of Gainesville, called the ruling “ridiculous”. Other critics focused on the headband protective device as ‘flimsy” citing that if offers only a small zone of protection. Dr. Roger Dearing, the Executive Director of Florida’s high school association said: ” if the rule prevents one athlete from a head injury, its worth it”. Coaches and parents of players have protested the decision asking for a delay while US Lacrosse recommended standardized, lab tested headgear for girls which would be optional. The 9 of 14 of the Florida board members voted for the new rule.
While girls’ lacrosse doesn’t allow body contact like the boys’ rules the risk of injury from the stick or ball remains. Dawn Comstock, Associate Professor of Epidemiology for the Pediatric Injury Prevention, Education and Research Program at the Colorado School of Public Health, published a report on the types of injuries suffered by boys’ and girls’ lacrosse players. Comstock questioned why girls lacrosse rules were not taking into account the known value of helmets in protection. Coaches have cited what is called the “gladiator effect” in their protests, claiming that athletes become more aggressive with head protection. Comstock recommended that coaches enforce the rules of play to address aggressive behavior by players.
The Florida girls’ lacrosse decision is important as it represents another move towards preventing concussions. Just last week a bill was introduced in California to reduce physical contact in high school football practice. Former NFL player and brain injury survivor, George Visger and Dr. Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner, the President of the California Brain Injury Association and a researcher in brain injury supported the legislative act and appeared before the California State Senate. I shared with George Visger my appreciation for his work on preventing concussions in youth sports.