Florida’s Headgear Rule for Girls’ Lacrosse Creates Controversy

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Rolf B. Gainer, PhD

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.

Click here to read the New York Times story on the Florida rules.

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One Response to Florida’s Headgear Rule for Girls’ Lacrosse Creates Controversy

  1. Michael McMahon May 23, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

    As the parent of a girl who plays lacrosse, I feel that Florida’s Regulation does not go far enough to protect our daughters, who play the nation’s oldest sport. I believe that all girls should be mandated to wear the same regulation hard shell helmet as does their male counterparts. Sure there is the sphere rule “to protect” the girls heads from the crosses of their opponent’s, but the ball does not have the ability to think and stop itself before it can hit a girl in the head!

    I had another daughter who played U-15 (Middle School) lacrosse last year, but after a non-head related injury and watching 3 of her teammates suffer grade 1 & 2 concussions from the ball striking, she decided that Lacrosse is just too dangerous to be played, and quit. One of those concussions was from an errant hard pass from a teammate, which was deflected and hit another girl on the crown of her skull. The ball ricocheted off her head and went about thirty feet up in the air, and that was during practice.

    I have seen middle school girls out with their fathers with radar guns working on making their already 50 mph shots even harder/faster, despite rules targeting “dangerous propelling” or “dangerous shooting”. Why is that, the objective of the game is to beat the other team on the scoreboard and that occurs by teams doing two things, the attackers shooting shots that the goalkeeper cannot see or move fast enough to stop and for the defenders to not allow the opposing teams attackers to get that shot off on their goal, even if it means that they get a “shooting space” violation. Why would players do such thing against the rules? Because the college and University programs that offer scholarships are getting to the point where they want verbal commitments to attend their schools and play for their teams, before they ever set foot on a HIGH SCHOOL FIELD, and as it deals with Athletic Scholarships, every girl wants to be the best, score the most and have the hardest shot, so that they can attract the attention and potential money for school, just like any other athlete in any sport!

    US Lacrosse and FIL live in a dream world where everything is about their view of the game, while the real world is about the Scholarships! Those harder shots, especially in a game where you need to be concentrating on multiple aspects at any given time, and with the girls skulls totally unprotected will end up in a fatality. It is not a matter of “if it happens”, it is a fact of “when it occurs”! And when it does, FIL and US Lacrosse will be held liable, because many people have been complaining and warning of that it will happen. I hope that they get their heads out of their posteriors and protect the brains of our girls over their pipedream that girls will play “ladylike”, when in fact girls can be more viscous and ferocious than boys, while boys just use their brute force.

    As for my youngest daughter, who still plays, I felt she would be a lot safer playing Goalkeeper, than playing in the field and told her it is that or she does not play at all. I went and bought her all the required gear, especially her hard shell helmet.

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