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Hot Pot: Explaining The Lax Bro Phenomenon

IL Gear, a site primarily dedicated to promoting lacrosse gear, posted an article yesterday titled “The Lax Bro Culture is Holding Back Lacrosse.” The article’s gist is that a small percentage of the lacrosse population, aka the Lax Bro, is giving the sport a bad name, and keeping potential players from getting involved. It is argued that this bad name, in turn, is holding back the sport’s overall growth.

The Lax Bro is described in the article linked to above thusly:

We didn’t know the [lacrosse] players specifically, or if they were good, but things stood out. “Bro check out my sweet spoon; let’s go rip some twine” is the gist of every conversation I heard from lacrosse players.

I might have heard more if I hadn’t been so distracted by their flamboyant hair topped with flat-brim hats and stupid, obnoxious shorts. These observations had other athletes doubting the sport took any sort of skill or discipline because the kids who played acted like these clowns.

The author goes on to say that he did end up picking up the sport of lacrosse (because of a friend), and that he realized that not all lacrosse players are the same. He is now going on to play in college. It turned out that many players actually took it seriously, and some treated it as seriously as the author and his other friends had treated football. Lesson learned, right? If lacrosse would only ditch the silly lingo, bright shorts, and long hair, people would flock to play it!

Honestly, I don’t think it is as simple as that.

First off, in many new growth areas the Lax Bro is a non-issue. It might be rampant in Florida, where the author is from, but if you go out to Montana you don’t see kids talking about spoons and swag. You do see kids working their tails off and playing hard-nosed lacrosse. And yet, there is still resistance to the sport’s growth from the established sporting community in Montana, including football. But where is the supposed Lax Bro villain in this case?

How can people resist lacrosse when the LB is nowhere to be seen? The same exact thing can be said in Eastern Oregon, the suburbs of Prague, Uganda, Jamaica, Boise, or where I coach in East Brooklyn. There is some resistance to lacrosse growth in ALL of these places, but none are plagued by the dreaded “Lax Bro.”

What is really going on here?

Sports in the US, and often times abroad, require time to take root. As a sport grows, outside groups resist being pulled in for one reason or another, and they find things to hate about the new sport. I remember skiers complaining that snowboards were “too loud” and that they “scraped all the snow off the mountain” when snowboarding first took off. I remember soccer being described as a sport for wimps by football coaches when I was in middle and high school. When we first brought up lacrosse at my high school, the AD’s reaction was “but what will happen to the track and baseball teams?”

Did snowboarding start to require mufflers? No. Did soccer change to be a more physical game? No. Did lacrosse shrink its roster down to 5 total players so other sports wouldn’t be impacted? No. So why do we need to cut the Lax Bro aspect out of the game completely? I’m not a fan of the addiction to swag or silly lingo (ok, sometimes I say spoon. It’s funny), but is it really all that harmful? Or is it possible that we are engaging in some serious scapegoating here?

In general, people fear change. Just watch Wayne’s World, and you’ll see this is true. And lacrosse is changing and growing. This means people outside of the sport are scared of it, because they don’t understand it, or think they can love it. Football players will identify lacrosse players as “Lax Bros” until they open up their minds and try it for themselves. If they weren’t being derided as “lax bros,” it would be something else I’m sure. I’m not going to tell you what the football players at my high school called the soccer players. But it was worse… much worse.

There will be problems with lacrosse moving forward. Mainstream sports outlets will continue to show the sport using fringe stories, and many of those will be negative. It happened to soccer, snowboarding, X-Games, MMA… and any other “new” sport trying to crash its way into the mainstream. But the answer to this was never to identify segments of the existing community and shame them into thinking it was somehow their fault.

The only way you can take your sport to the next level is to keep pushing boundaries, and to keep improving. As the quality of play and playing public both improve and increase, the sport will continue to grow. The Lax Bro described above will fade to fandom, and the kid you’re hating on now will be the guy watching Major League Lacrosse, and going to your college games… as a spectator, cheering you on.

All we can do is focus on ourselves. We really can’t try to tell other people how to cut their hair, what shorts to wear, or how to talk about their sticks. We can engage in community service, coach the next generation of kids, and get involved in a positive way. Lacrosse’s success does not depend on cutting off the less attractive elements of the game. It depends on good people actively spreading the game the right way and making the sport better. As it grows, the Lax Bro phenomenon will fade to background noise, so to focus on it now as the driving hindrance to the sport’s growth is unfair.

If you want to take a stand with what is wrong with lacrosse, I will applaud you. I tip my hat to the author of the IL Gear post for coming out and saying his piece. But I honestly think he’s shooting too low, looking at this using a short-term approach, and dividing a small community. Instead of blaming the Lax Bro, be a Lacrosse Man and #GrowTheGame yourself in a positive way!