Searching For Wall Street’s Lacrosse Mafia


Editor’s note: The following is a response to Bloomberg Businessweek’s recent article titled “Wall Street’s Lacrosse Mafia“.

Did these guys play lacrosse too?

Talk about an attention grabbing headline!  Wall Street, the Mafia and Lacrosse all in one place?  It’s almost too much to believe!  Bloomberg Businessweek breaks the news that lacrosse players make an a big impact on Wall Street!  I’m just kidding.  This story isn’t actually new at all, and has been in “the news” for a long time.

In 2008, the Wall Street Journal wrote a similar piece about lacrosse players in banking, and it was commented on at length.  Here are two of the online responses (second response).  In 2011, Dealbreaker looked into Wall Street’s hiring practices of lacrosse players.  Also in 2011, e-Financial News told their readers if they wanted a wall street job, they should play lacrosse. CNN has even made the connection.  As you look back through the pages of a basic google search, the stories just keep adding up.

To me, the most interesting thing about the Businessweek article is not the connection it draws between banking and the sport of lacrosse, but the connection it doesn’t make!

Bloomberg Businessweek is a Bloomberg company, and just in case you didn’t know, Bloomberg is named after New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the 12th richest man in America.  Bloomberg went to Johns Hopkins, where he played intramural lacrosse (almost everyone did that back in the day), and then got into… you guessed it… banking!  After leaving Solomon Brothers, he started Bloomberg LP, and the rest is pretty much history.

Bloomberg has mentioned his past with lacrosse before, but for this article to leave out one of the most powerful men in and around Wall Street was just a little shocking, especially since it’s Bloomberg Businessweek.  Maybe it was just too obvious to mention.  Either way, we thought YOU might find it interesting.

When it comes down to it, lacrosse’s influence on Wall Street really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to people.  Lacrosse has a strong foothold in elite private high schools from Maine to Florida, and many of these schools feed students (not just lacrosse players) to the elite East Coast colleges and Universities (Ivies, Hopkins, Duke, NESCACs, etc), and these are the institutions where Wall Street often pulls, and even actively recruits, from.

Ah Yale, one of the world’s finest institutions. Photo credit: Bloomberg Businessweek

The connection to lacrosse players is interesting, and worth noting (again), but until we see a statistical comparison that lays out exactly where Wall Streeters have come from, it’s just a story based on what we think is happening, and one that has been told before.

The recent Businessweek article points to Duke’s 2006 senior class as a major piece of evidence, citing that 9 of the 11 seniors went on to work in finance, and looked at all alone, that seems pretty convincing.  But is it at all statistically relevant?  No.  It’s a sample size of 11 people, and an intentionally misleading statistic used to illustrate a point because real research wasn’t available.  And because those were some of the players involved in the Duke Lacrosse case.

In fact, when any real research was done, it pointed out that WHERE you went to school was most important, and then came the sport you played.  And lacrosse was not alone.  It was mentioned alongside crew, field hockey and squash.  But going to Harvard or Yale was far more important.  So being a lacrosse player at Brown would means less than being a squash player at Harvard, according to the research, and yet there is no article on the Squash Wall Street Mafia.

The preponderance of stories, but lack of conclusive evidence makes me view this as an incredibly sensational story.  Of course I myself am a lacrosse player with a familial connection to finance, so I may be biased here.  But at least I put that into my story!

Yes, there are a lot of lacrosse players on Wall Street.  I’ve seen it firsthand and I’ve read about it a hundred times over now. However, I’m not so sure that there are many more lacrosse players than squash players (percentage wise), or that specific sports even factor into the equation as much as people think they do.

In my eyes, and in the eyes of the only study report I could find,  it’s still about WHERE you went, and not what you did.  Are there a lot of Harvard Lacrosse players in finance?  Yup.  But there are a lot of Harvard people in finance in general.

It would be interesting to see how the percentage of Harvard lacrosse players now in finance relates to the percentage of Harvard students in general, who are now in finance.  It would be interesting to compare the lacrosse team graduates’ participation rate against the participation rate of some of the Eating Houses in Cambridge as well.  This research could actually tell us something.

The assertion that there is a “Wall Street Lacrosse Mafia” can be made, and has been made time and time again, but I’ve yet to see anyone back the statement up conclusively, which is weird, because I thought people who covered finance were supposed to understand and love math.  Citing a Summer team league and a meeting of the Bulls LC at Pete’s Tavern is simply not enough.

In the interest of offering up as many sides as we can, we got some feedback from former collegiate lacrosse players now working in the financial world.  All bankers were kept anonymous to protect their identities.  That’s just a great sentence right there.

Here are some thoughts from a former Division 1 NCAA Lacrosse Player:

As far as why there is such a high correlation to lacrosse and finance; I think it has more to do with the schools where D1 lacrosse is predominately played (Ivy, Patriot League, ACC, etc), rather than whether or not the players themselves grew up wealthy. I work in finance now, but I was raised by a single working parent who was a school teacher. When I chose lacrosse as the sport I wanted to pursue at the D1 level, I was wisely told not to rely on athletic scholarships, and that I was more likely to receive tuition-assistance based on academics from the top D1 lacrosse schools.

So, I worked hard to get straight A’s and become an All-American in High School and achieved both. I think based on the schools and current budget constraints of the sport, the field of D1 lacrosse players to start off with is going to be made up of a more academically focused group of student-athletes, than football, basketball, etc. It’s not a coincidence that Lacrosse has the highest graduation rate of any collegiate sport.

However, this is also a generational pattern, which is probably why this “lacrosse to banking” trend has been persistent.  The hard-work and team-oriented concepts deployed in lacrosse also translate well to finance. When you get in that locker room in college, everyone was a high-school All-American and star of their team. Now, you are all competing against each other for precious minutes on the field. It’s a frantic pace of competition that is relentless, and pretty much year-round. Being able to deal with that makes for an easy transition into competitive finance fields like banking and real estate.

Interesting… this guy seems to be saying he got a good job because he got good grades.  He also mentions the high graduation rate, which might mean, on average, lacrosse players actually do pretty well in school. Actually it does mean that.  Add in the competitive nature of lacrosse and maybe they’re just suited for jobs like this.  So maybe lacrosse does help!

But then we get the take from a former Division III All American, who adds in a little more context:

Is the point of the article to celebrate the success of lacrosse players on the street, is it to vilify them as mafiosos, or is there a point at all?  The title sets the tone of the article as aggressive but fails to deliver any “mafia” reference.  The (Businessweek) article is so scattered that I am unsure where to start, but the quotation from 1879 is probably as good as any.  What kind of journalist extrapolates 120 year old words about merchants to apply to the present set of bankers?

My general comments are that being a star athlete (lacrosse or other) is a huge advantage in getting any job. The fact that there is a very limited financial upside to playing professional lacrosse makes it so that college lacrosse stars get day jobs, and some of them do so on Wall Street.

What would the author prefer they do?  Live off the government?  Would working any other job be better somehow?

The real questions I would have liked to see answered:
1. How does the general Ivy League – Wall Street rate compare to those of the athletes? I will bet it’s darn close.
2. How many people at Wall Street firms have played other sports? My boss was a football player and we have countless baseball and hockey players at the bank.
3. What is wrong with playing pick up games with your friends once you start working? Go to any gym in America and you can see college basketball player,s and their friends, running the courts. Is lacrosse really different?

The second respondent seems to be thinking along my lines a little more… does lacrosse really have anything to do with it?  Or is just a mix of other circumstances where lacrosse is also involved?  The correlation may be high, but is there actual causation here?

So what do YOU think LAS?  Is the Wall Street Lacrosse connection as big as everyone seems to make it?  Or is there just a strong connection between great schools and finance, coupled with a strong connection between great lacrosse and great schools?

Does the Lacrosse on Wall Street story not see the forrest because of the trees?