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Hot Pot: The Problem With Box Lacrosse Helmets

The box lacrosse helmet and face mask/cage controversy is still running strong in Canada. What is legal, what is not, and why? Can anything be done to fix this serious problem?

Last Summer, I put together a video post titled The Great Box Lacrosse Cage Controversy In Canada, and while one might think that an important issue like this would be wrapped up quickly, that has been far from the case. The debate surrounding box lacrosse helmets and face masks/cages is still running strong, but now we’re starting to get a lot more information on the ins and outs of the issue, and some clarity seems to be emerging because of it.

Main Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo

More and more manufacturers are coming out with new cages that are CLA (and CSA. But I’ll get to that later) legal. There are now three different legal masks available, from Gait, Under Armour, and Marty O’Neill. The new masks run closer to the face, like a hockey mask, and have a similar chin cup/strap system as well. The old set up can be seen on the right, and the new set up can be seen on the left.


The knock on the new masks is that they run so close to the face, and are attached to the chin cup, that any contact to the mask gets transferred to the player’s face. This set up can result in serious cuts and bruises, but could also result in more broken jaw bones and lost teeth. While these cuts and other injuries were possible with the old cages, opponents of the new cages argue that the incident rate for injury with the old cages was much lower. To be fair, I’ve seen them worn without issue as well.

The knock on the old masks, where the mask is anchored down away from the face, is that there was no insurance standard to cover them in Canada, so while they may have been more protective (it is weirdly irrelevant here), there was no way to guarantee that someone who did get hurt could get treated, since everyone was technically wearing illegal equipment. In the 2000s, this all changed, and helmets had to meet NOCSAE standards. The aforementioned Marty O’Neil does a good job of laying down this timeline over on ILindoor.

O’Neill also makes the point that if there had been one serious injury and a corresponding lawsuit, with the old masks in use, that the CLA could have been forced into bankruptcy by a settlement in court. Simply put, no insurance company was going to pay out big money if someone was using illegal and unregulated protective equipment. The CLA realized this, and tried to get their ducks in a row.

What has resulted is a lot of confusion, and a lacrosse helmet that seems better designed for hockey than anything else. This makes sense, seeing as the existing hockey standards were influential in creating the lacrosse standards. The only problem here is that hockey and lacrosse are not the same sport. One is played down on the ice. The other, up in the air, closer to the head. Right now, box lacrosse is pretty much stuck with a helmet that is not designed to truly protect the players, but instead prioritizes meeting important insurance requirements.

The good news is that things could still change or, at the very least, evolve. Innovation is sometimes created by a newly found need for innovation, or a new cause, and I think this new mask standards issue fits that bill perfectly. New chin cup standards need to be developed, new straps and approaches to buckles need to be worked on. The CSA should experiment with how far away from the face a mask can be and still be deemed safe. The CSA should also look at making plastic clips mandatory (like they are in field lacrosse) so that face masks can literally be cut off a helmet with scissors. It works in field and football. It can work in box too.

Helmet manufacturers need to look at creating a one-piece box helmet. Mask manufacturers need to pressure helmet manufacturers to make a one-piece box helmet. The CLA must invest in creating and studying newer and safer standards. Players must learn how to properly attach their masks and helmets, and the CSA needs to be flexible, even if that is not their reputation.

A lot needs to happen for this situation to be fixed, and if it is not fixed, box lacrosse growth in Canada will continue to stagnate, so this responsibility is really a country-wide thing. The entire community also needs to realize that this had to happen. Without this move, lacrosse in Canada was open to a huge legal liability. Non-insured players is simply not sustainable in this day and age. Making the switch was a smart move, and one that needed to be made. How that move was made? Well, it was done poorly, with little info disseminated, late in the game, and with little opportunity for feedback. That probably facilitated the #changethecage hashtag we see so often on Twitter.

And that right there is the problem. The lacrosse playing community in Canada does not fully trust the CLA. The CLA hasn’t fully earned that trust, but they also haven’t earned the hate or misunderstanding that some of their most ardent opponents seem to generate. There are two sides, bickering back and forth, and making little progress.

On one side, you have a group of people asking to go back to the old cage, which if you’ve read this article, you now know is financially not possible because of the high risk of litigation. On the other side, you have a group of people who did not take input from their constituents, and made a move that had to be made, and then did a poor job of communicating about the issue. As an outsider looking in, I can heartily say this: The partisan attitudes North of the Border are hurting the game.

Do we have our own problems and bickering stateside? You bet! Don’t even get me started on the field vs. box thing down here… just don’t. And does my team have problems? Sure! Who doesn’t? But not like this… not to the point where the love of community within lacrosse begins to shatter. Not to the point that people just throw up their hands and say “it is what it is”… That’s no good at all.

People who love lacrosse in Canada need to find a solution to The Great Box Lacrosse Cage Controversy, because it’s the first step in getting growth back on track. Make it more insurable AND make it safer. That doesn’t happen through anger or defensiveness, it only happens if everyone works together for the future of the game.

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