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Girls Lacrosse Helmets – NYT – A BIG Issue

Bill Pennington wrote a story about Girls Lacrosse Helmets which was published on March 6th, 2016 in America’s most respected newspaper, the New York Times. In this story he details the recent uptick in concern over concussions, the historical elements of the girls lacrosse helmets debate, and what steps are being taken to address the issue today.

Pennington says one of the biggest reasons for the confusion is a lack of any official standard for girls lacrosse helmets from US Lacrosse, but that this long-standing fact is now changing.

For me, the biggest obstacle in this debate actually has nothing to do with US Lacrosse setting or not setting a standard for helmets… the biggest obstacle in this debate is that NO ONE (including USL) has historically provided good, research-backed scientific data on this matter. It is mostly conjecture and “gut feeling”, and it holds women’s lacrosse back from making the right choice when it comes to helmets, and the overall safety of their players.

This can NOT continue.

Girls Lacrosse Helmets – A BIG Issue

Someone is right here and someone is wrong, but neither side really seems interested in finding this out. I find this bizarre, and very disheartening. The article that Pennington wrote? We’ve SEEN THAT BEFORE (2015 in the NYT, 2014, 2010… etc, etc) and it’s really all we’ve seen for the last six+ years from anyone.

We get it, the debate is raging… but should there even be a debate right now? Is this issue even worthy of consideration? From a safety point of view, of course it is! But from a research point of view? We’re not even close.


The pro-helmet crowd thinks it’s crazy not to have helmets in our sport. They cite general sports concussion studies, and show how girls lacrosse can be a dangerous game. And while they advocate for helmets and increased safety, this group also provides very little proof that helmets will actually reduce concussions in women’s lacrosse. Their data usually comes from other sports, or shows no comparison between lacrosse played with vs without helmets.

The anti-helmet crowd sits on the other end of the spectrum, and this groups thinks it’s crazy to add helmets to the game. They cite a long-standing history and tradition as unassailable evidence that the game is just fine how it is now. They also cite studies which show that helmets can actually increase incident rates for concussions, but these studies are usually from hockey, or football and rugby, and not lacrosse.

90% of the women’s lacrosse playing body probably doesn’t care all that much either way, and just wants to play the game, with helmets or without.

And here’s why: Obviously, lacrosse is a fun game people love to play, and by now, everyone who isn’t biased or fooling themselves knows that helmets are NOT designed to reduce concussions. In fact, the helmets even have warning labels on them saying as much. They are designed to reduce and stop inter-cranial bleeding, and skull fractures, and that’s it.

Are skull fractures a big issue in women’s lacrosse? What about inter-cranial bleeding? If those are issues in women’s lacrosse, then ADD HELMETS. Do the research, look at the number of skull fractures in high school or college games, and make a call. That seems simple. The same goes for inter-cranial bleeding.

best 2015 photos

But for concussions? I’m really not sold on this yet. Heck, you can get a sonic concussion from someone swinging something by your head at a high rate of speed or from a nearby explosion or impact. They don’t even need to make contact! How does a helmet mitigate that risk? It doesn’t. And it hasn’t been shown to reduce other concussions types (acceleration, rotational, or direct contact) either.

You see, in order to reduce an incident rate for an injury by adding a new piece of protective equipment, that new piece of equipment has to be shown to actually reduce that injury. You could strap a a knee pad onto everyone’s knees because of ACL tears, but is that pad going to reduce ACL tears? Absolutely not, so it did NOTHING. For concussions and helmets, it seems like we are in a very similar position right now, and until a helmet comes out that can reduce concussions, adding a helmet to reduce concussions seems like an absolutely bonkers argument to make.

“We want to reduce concussions, we so we are adding helmets.”

“Do the helmets reduce concussions?”

“No, but…”

Yeah, it is NOT a strong argument.

NONE of the helmet manufacturers will come out and say that their helmet reduces concussions. NOT ONE OF THEM. So how does the pro-helmet crowd really make an argument for adding helmets at this point? They don’t. So far it’s been mostly fear-based, with little actual research presented. Of course the anti-helmet crowd hasn’t been much better:

“We are against helmets in women’s lacrosse!”

“Ok, why?”

“Helmets can NOT reduce concussions and will only increase them!”

“Can you prove that?”

“Well, no, but…”

Stop TELLING me helmets will ruin the game. SHOW ME. Show me data, show me a video, do a survey with 10,000 players… something! I simply don’t care what you THINK anymore… we’ve listened to thoughts for 6+ years. It’s time for some science and actual fact finding!

If US Lacrosse has failed anywhere, this is where they have failed.

US Lacrosse should have TONS of research on this issue done already. From 1986 to 1996 (that’s a FULL decade), girls lacrosse players in Massachusetts wore hockey helmets. I know this because I saw it with my own eyes. DID THE HELMETS WORK BACK THEN? Can we answer that question first? Girls were still using heavy wooden sticks back then, and before, so can we look at injury numbers for an entire STATE from 1980 to 2000? That would give us 5 years without helmets, 10 years with helmets, and then 5 more years without helmets. Seems like a GREAT place to start… and yet very little is done with this info, by EITHER side.

penn state lacrosse girls lacrosse helmets

Florida has also made helmets mandatory for some schools, and the Bullis School wore them last year. Don’t we have ANY actual data to show about this issue? Are we REALLY still throwing out “I FEEL the game needs to be safer” or “I FEEL the game is fine as it is”… I don’t care what you FEEL. I need to know what you KNOW. The game, and its many dedicated players, deserves it!

Do helmets make the girls game safer? Do a REAL study, come up with some REAL data, and provide a REAL answer. Until someone takes this step, and provides a transparent, well-researched look into this issue, everyone arguing either side will come out a loser, and the 90%, those who just want to play the game, will suffer the most.

Enough with the “raging debate”. Come up with some real substance, or get out of the way and let the players play.