Hot Pot

Hot Pot: Fighting The Right Way

Malcolm Chase and Devan Spilker mix it up. Penalties killed Baltimore.
Malcolm Chase and Devan Spilker mix it up. Penalties killed Baltimore.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fighting alone isn’t the biggest problem in box lacrosse. In my opinion, fighting is much more a symptom of a rough, and often under-referreed game, where players can take unseen liberties, and possibly inflict serious bodily harm through the pace of play. As it stands now, with small referee crews and, at times, loosely interpreted rules, it allows the players to sort things out themselves, and maintain some sense of order and safety.

Like in the NHL, a lot of the time this system works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sports philosophers (sounds better than bloggers), like me, tend to talk about it non-stop, and in idealistic terms. I just can’t help myself, as the idea of two grown men punching each other out at a sporting event (that isn’t boxing) still rubs me the wrong way. In the stands, on the street, or on the court, I don’t love fisticuffs.

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That being said, with the way the game is played today, fighting is very much a reality. I know that. So in order to reduce the fighting further, some change would need to be made, and I’ve laid out what I think can be done to see it through, on multiple occasions, and with different ideas. Admittedly, some of these ideas are better than others, but when I see a video like the one I saw a couple of days ago, even I think that the issue is still up for a good debate, and I’m pretty biased. Maybe fighting does have a place in lacrosse?

Unfortunately, this example of a good box lacrosse fight, like many others out there, was taken down off YouTube, while the worst offending videos (mostly brawls) tend to stay up and garner big view counts. Go figure. Allow me to describe the action of this good fight:

In the now-deleted-video, two Junior WLA players agreed to fight, and as play was set to resume with a face off, they slowly backed away from the action at the draw, set down their gear, and duked it out, 1-on-1, once both pugilists were ready. Helmets weren’t ripped off, and both participants were willing. At one point, one player was in a headlock, and the other was still throwing punches, but that was the cheapest it got. Both players gave and received, they went down to the floor together, the refs pulled them apart, THEY SHOOK HANDS, and then each was sent off the floor to their respective locker rooms.

For two guys punching each other in the face, it was as classy and correct a thing as I’ve seen in a long while. And usually, at least according to most of my Canadian friends, that’s how a box fight goes down. Two guys agree to it, they thrown down, and the game moves on. And when this is the type of fighting that occurs, I can actually see the validity to it. As the game stands now, I buy it all. Surprised?

In the end, I guess I’m just not sold that certain players and teams don’t take advantage of the opportunity. When the cheapest and toughest guy on the floor instigates a fight or two (I’ve seen that happen before), it’s not policing. It’s using fighting as a way to win the game, or wow the crowd, and there really is no sportsmanship in that. And when that type of stuff happens, this kind of stuff can happen too, no matter how rare it is:

Now I am not arguing that the above level of fighting and brawling is at all common, but it is at least a little disgraceful to our sport. When ESPN shows a baseball brawl on SportsCenter, I change the channel. It’s embarrassing to watch. When a big scrum of basketball players pushes, slaps, and yells at one another, on the floor or in the crowd, I have to laugh at them. It’s not toughness, it’s a front. When there is a brawl in lacrosse, there are some tough guys out there, but I still feel for my whole community… Sure, I can rationalize it or explain it away as an aberration, just like an NBA fan can rationalize what happened in Detroit. But that doesn’t make it right.

When there is a one on one, agreed-to fight, where two sporting men duke it out, and then shake hands? I’m surprisingly OK with that. All of the other brawling and extra curricular stuff? Let’s leave that to the tough guys of baseball and basketball, ok?

I wish that other video were still up, so we had a recent example of a good fight. Instead all we get is stuff like the above, and this video, below:

So while I can see the value in fighting, and I have been impressed with the sportsmanship shown in many fights before, it just seems like the damage that it does to the sport is not entirely worth it. Like I said above, and John Nicholson of the Nanaimo Timbermen said in the video, the fighting isn’t really the problem. It’s the other stuff that LEADS to the fighting.

If we want to reduce brawls, and make sure that the rare fight is the worst of it, then the rules need to be tightened up, enforced, with the game put back in the hands of capable refs. It might lead to a lot of penalties especially as players adjust, but they will adjust. A high crosscheck is illegal. Call it a lot tighter, and this could all be a non-issue in a season or two.

About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

8 Comments

  • CLA shit the bed on this ban and created more problems than it solved. If your punched from behind, grappled and thrown down, the guy who grapples you gets tossed as the instigator, yet, if you listened, if the ref thinks you threw a punch you get five minutes unreleasable.

    Fighting is there because of the inextricable connection between hockey and box, which created as a method of summer training for hockey. Revisionist history of indoor lacrosse says that fighting is there to prevent goons dealing in cheap shots, such as the check into the door passage in the video rather than into the solid boards. Some of that is true.

    It’s also true that the ban on fighting doesn’t deal with instigation. It’s no problem to identify the hothead and slightly yet legally taunt. For instance, if you knew a player has a short fuse, just rest the head of your stick on his foot during faceoffs. Don’t trip, just leave it there during setup. Pull just before the whistle blows. Do this to the right guy and he’ll snap. You won’t get called for it. But every player on the field knows it. Given CLA fighting rules, you get off, no penalties (unless you happen to accidentally hit someone as you’re dragged down). The guy you taunted is given 5 unreleasable and additionally tossed from the game.

    The solutions to this aren’t really there. You’re looking for a cultural change, not a rules change. Anyone who does this in a box game wouldn’t dream of doing it in a field game. Though there are some obvious ones. Leave the bench to fight, for instance, is an obvious call. Two goalies fighting should be a penalty as well, because there is no reason for that. You could also add same-line fighting, since they shouldn’t be on the floor at the same time. Someone assigned an O-line fighting another assigned an O-line could be auto penalties. Punching someone who is already on the floor (in the Int. A video) is another.

    Rules against fighting don’t get to instigation, at least, not the way the rules are now. Current fighting rules have only evolved into more shit-stirring measures, such as the number of times coaches are calling for goalie pad checks in recent games. The “if your player is going to instigate, I’m gonna mess with your goalie” concept. (It doesn’t work, but it does piss everyone off)

    Most box fights end with handshakes, the only difference in the Jr A video was that the shake was actually one helping the other up. Most of the fights that don’t end in handshakes were fights that drew blood, or fights that stem from a long-standing outside-the-game animosity. It’s simply not fair to point to bench-clearing fights and say “fighting in lacrosse is bad” because bench-clearing fights are rare. I can only think of 4 in the past ten years, and this is across all levels (Int, Jr, Sr, NLL). Nearly every fight is between players who think one was a cheap-shot and needs to set things straight.

  • @scearley – amazing comment. In-depth, from a consistent POV, and strongly argued.

    I think we both agree that the ban on fighting is attacking a symptom and not a root cause. Do you think my proposal of more tightly called games (including instigation) could augment the problem, or would it just exacerbate it?

  • @ConnorWilson the problem with calling instigation is not entirely solvable. Instigation can be unintentional. Mor importantly instigation can be legal. Instigation lay in the mind of the other guy, not necessarily the person “instigating.” Say the wrong thing – without even knowing it’s the wrong thing – and you can get punched. That’s just as easy to imagine on the floor as it is in real life.

    Making tighter calls can improve things, but there are five one-on one matchups on the floor most of the time, and then there are the intentionally-on-purpose actions in line changes. Refs can’t keep track of all of that.

    “More refs” one would say, but it’s hard enough to get people to zebra let alone add 50% more refs per game. Two refs on the floor is tight enough as it is; adding a third seems like it would get in the way of play.

    Imagine these two actions in a Championship game:

    1. Two guys fight because one wouldn’t stop chirping. Both get 5 minutes offset (that is, game remains 5v5, neither player can be on the floor during those 5 minutes) and one is ejected from the game, or
    2. Ref sends one player to the box for two minutes because the ref thinks that that player’s actions might cause someone on the other team to throw a punch.
  • Here’s an additional thought:
    If there’s more than one fight in a game, the coaches are fined/suspended. This might already be in place, I don’t know, but it seems like a good top-down deterrent.

  • @ConnorWilson the problem with calling instigation is not entirely solvable. Instigation can be unintentional. Mor importantly instigation can be legal. Instigation lay in the mind of the other guy, not necessarily the person “instigating.” Say the wrong thing – without even knowing it’s the wrong thing – and you can get punched. That’s just as easy to imagine on the floor as it is in real life.

    Making tighter calls can improve things, but there are five one-on one matchups on the floor most of the time, and then there are the intentionally-on-purpose actions in line changes. Refs can’t keep track of all of that.

    “More refs” one would say, but it’s hard enough to get people to zebra let alone add 50% more refs per game. Two refs on the floor is tight enough as it is; adding a third seems like it would get in the way of play.

    Imagine these two actions in a Championship game:

    1. Two guys fight because one wouldn’t stop chirping. Both get 5 minutes offset (that is, game remains 5v5, neither player can be on the floor during those 5 minutes) and one is ejected from the game, or
    2. Ref sends one player to the box for two minutes because the ref thinks that that player’s actions might cause someone on the other team to throw a punch.

    As far as saying the wrong thing, I don’t think that should be penalized, or really even can be. Say what you want, I guess. It’s not in the rules right? And retaliating is no better, nor is it excused and should be penalized regardless. It’s about escalating things, I think. Is that a judgement call? Yes, but that’s what being a ref is all about! Did he slash him? Yes, penalty. Did he chop a guy’s hand after the guy mouthed something to him? Penalty. It’s pretty simple. Penalties are penalties. Call them. Will refs miss some? Of course. Happens in many sports without it escalating.

    I’d like to see a third ref personally… either on the sidelines, or trailing the opposite end of the floor. When the action moves to the other end, one of the two O refs stays back and watches the line change and play in the rear, one goes with the play, the other moves back towards the play from the formerly Defensive end, and sees the players coming at him. 3 angles, and two refs are relatively stationary. Seems like a flawless system, non?

    If you respond to chirping with violence, and you’re probably a goon. Respond with goals, and you’re an athlete. Respond to violence with violence? We need more refs. I view instigating as throwing the first punch, or a slash behind the play or on a change. Little tick tack stuff is fine, as it is part of the game. Like I said, it’s about the ref’s judgement.

    If one player gets in the face of another guy and chest bumps him a couple times, and then runs off, give him 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike. The action was unsportsmanlike, so why not call it? Does anyone call that stuff? Almost never from what I’ve seen. I think that is where the line needs to be drawn, then fighting becomes a non-issue.

  • @ConnorWilson –
    You’re right. There are some smaller points I want to clear up/reinforce.

    [chirping]’s not in the rules right? And retaliating is no better, nor is it excused and should be penalized regardless.

    CLA has a zero tolerance rule regarding fighting. That’s the issue. It doesn’t matter what happened, but as soon as A fight starts (note: not necessarily when a punch is thrown) both players get the 5 minute major. (WLA’s penalty is 10 minutes for unsportsmanlike, as we remember back when Roik got three in one game)

    A “no fighting” rule then requires two determinations:

    1. When does the “fight” start, and
    2. Who started it?

    The problem lay in the second point. Your arguments seem to say that the fight starts when a punch is thrown. I say the fight starts when you egg someone on to throw a punch. I also contend that this can’t be determined to be the “start” of the fight.

    Let me restructure the grappling example I used in my first comment.

    Player A checks player B to the ground. Player B felt he wasn’t checked, but grabbed and pulled down. No whistle.

    Is player B fighting if, while getting up, he “accidentally” pushes down into player A with a closed hand, knee, or foot? No punch, just pushing up off the other player to get upright. Is player B justified? He’s not breaking the rules, he’s “just getting up.” This is an escalation, clearly, but if you throw either out for unsportsmanlike at this point you’re a powermad ref.

    And this is how most box fights start.

    I’d also like to point out that any discussions of box fights should be held to 1 on 1, punches until someone goes down, and players in a fight always accept that they are done both with the fight (and the rest of the game, in the case of the first punch) as soon as someone drops to the ground. A third person joins, benches clear, goalies fight, now you’re talking full-game suspensions, and are not part of the general “fighting in lacrosse” argument.

    3 angles, and two refs are relatively stationary. Seems like a flawless system, non?

    NLL has three refs – one in the booth to handle replay as well as keep an eye on too many men, bench play, etc. I don’t know how OLA works. WLA has enough difficulty getting two refs to show up to games in the first place to discuss having a third. I still think that a third ref chews up too much space, because they have to stay out of the action as much as possible so they aren’t used as picks. Keeping refs showing up is hard, now you add in the possibility that Beers is going to “accidentally” run through a ref because Duch used a ref as a screen? Nu huh. (Adding a penalty for contact with the ref in this way is in conflict with the rule across all sports that refs are considered field equipment in terms of gameplay)

    I sort of get where your revulsion comes from. The crowds, generally, get more animated at the fight compared to any play. But you’re denying the roots – lacrosse was born as a war training exercise.

    What I don’t get is that hard solid checks into the wall where someone gets bones broken is just “part of the game” but two guys standing facing each other off before grabbing at jerseys and throwing maybe three punches total is just too brutish to conceive.

    There’s too much in the culture of box (good and bad) to remove fighting. I think most of the cries against it are from US viewers, who have various opinions on box including “that’s not real lacrosse,” and seeing “indoor lacrosse” as just 7v7 low-contact no line changes running plays from the midfield.

    A lot of this is that in the US lacrosse is pitched as an NCAA track to college first, an enriching sport second.


    and not on topic, there’s this bomb you dropped in the article that I can’t believe I missed the first time:

    sports philosophers (sounds better than bloggers)

    C’mon man. You’re killing me over here. Example:
    http://www.hhdev.psu.edu/kines/graduate/areas/history-philosophy-sport

    Philosophy of Sport has been an AoS (area of specialization) in academic philosophy for over 40 years. If you were in any of my philosophy classes (not really- I’d consider it a possible ethical issue b/c of familiarity outside the classroom and suggest that you be placed in another professor’s class) I’d make sure you experienced the rigors of academic sports philosophy.

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