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Bill O'Brien Andrew Suitor Lacrosse-Fight NLL Credit Scott Pierson
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Lacrosse Fights: Welcome in the NLL

If you’ve been following the sport for a while, you have likely witnessed at least a couple lacrosse fights. Spawning from the sport of hockey, fighting is no newcomer to the Canadian dominated game of box lacrosse, rather it has been used for decades to swing momentum, settle scores and serve the justice that the penalty box wasn’t.

[mks_col][mks_one_half]There’s always been a weighted debate on whether or not fighting has its place in lacrosse. Field lacrosse does not tolerate or condone fighting unlike their box lacrosse counterpart that seems to celebrate it.

These days it appears that the National Lacrosse League, the world’s largest professional box lacrosse league, has stepped up their efforts to market fights in an effort to show off the exciting and action-packed nature of its league.[/mks_one_half]

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Fight, Fight, Fight!

The NLL Facebook page is the most followed social media entity in lacrosse with over 119K Likes while their Twitter boasts over 31K followers and Instagram right behind with over 21K. In 2015 we have seen the league capitalize on their extensive reach by showing highlights goals, trick plays and especially fights in almost real time.

Take the league’s biggest fights like Bill O’Brien vs, Stephen Keogh or Patrick Merrill vs. Nick Weiss (below), for example. Footage of these lacrosse fights went viral just minutes after they happened.

The Merril vs. Weiss scrap led to a rematch tilt the following night, this time between long-time bruisers Steve Priolo and Brodie Merrill. That, of course, then led to an all-out bench-clearing brawl – once again immediately shared online by the NLL:

Recently we saw Chris O’Dougherty of the Vancouver Stealth fight to stand up for his teammate Mitch McMichael who was hit on the face off multiple times by the Rush’s Nike Bilic.

Although OD’s hit on Thompson was legal, it was sending a message back to the Rush, one that you can see was immediately answered by Bilic and before you know it, a mutually agreed upon bout was underway.

Although these lacrosse fights might not be for everyone’s eyes, fans are now brought in to the live NLL experience mid-game, often being drawn into the action for the rest of the match (and then some).

The NLL YouTube page alone is becoming populated with the biggest fights, game-winning goals and more almost instantly, but it doesn’t stop there. The league does a fantastic job of recycling the highlights of the week across all of their social media channels to make sure an awesome save, electric goal, or painstaking punch never gets missed.

The NLL Instagram page recently went as far as calling the influx of lacrosse fight “Old School Lacrosse:”


Old-school lacrosse was back this week. #NLL


A photo posted by National Lacrosse League (@nll) on

This around-the-clock effort has helped propel lacrosse back into the national spotlight with countless clips shown on ESPN, TSN and Fox Sports. Look no further than the Bill O’Brien beat down, search around the google a bit, and you’ll find dozens of other online media outlets (some not even sport related) did their part to help the NLL turn those fisticuffs into world-wide trending sports news.

In mid-March, not even a minute into the Minnesota Swarm vs New England Black Wolves matchup, two of the game’s biggest bodies threw down the gloves to get the crowd on their feet early and often:

It looked like Andrew Suitor couldn’t let rookie Bill O’Brien steal the smack down spotlight without going through him first. The crowd loved it, the tilt was huge and both guys came out fired up.

…So are there any negatives?

The concept of fighting in lacrosse has been debated heavily over the years, and there is often strong support to remove the barbaric display of machismo. Except from the NLL, that is… the fans and the box lacrosse traditionalists across our continent just wouldn’t stand for it.

In Canadian junior lacrosse and below, fighting continues to rear its head and the ramifications for dropping gloves are not nearly as severe as they are for field lacrosse under NFHS rule. A field lacrosse player would be ejected, barred from two full games, and likely shamed by his coaches, teammates and parents. In box lacrosse, if he did his job and held his own in the scrap, he’d likely be celebrated by those stakeholders.

It was this bench clearing brawl between the Intermediate “A” Coquitlam Adanacs and the Nanaimo Timbermen that helped drive the discourse on a fighting ban, leading the Canadian Lacrosse Association to implement player ejections for fighting in 2013:

Although the CLA claims to have banned fighting, many lacrosse leagues tolerate up to two or so major fights per season before implementing more severe penalties to regulate the goons in the league and their ability to intimate the opposition. But even these changes are drawing heavy criticism.

Although the CLA isn’t openly supporting fighting, it’s clear the league isn’t trying to drive a wedge between fighting and box lacrosse completely. And clearly the NLL isn’t either.

The common consensus seems to be that, ironically, fighting is for safety. It keeps players honest and governed under their own unwritten rules. That said, it’s also important to note that many of these box lacrosse fights are not occurring because of some reaction to an event but rather due to a gentleman’s agreement between two parties. The goal is to wake the crowd up, pump up your teammates, and ignite the arena.

If this concept is working properly, why is it that we only see this display of aggression amongst box and field lacrosse players in North America? Lacrosse fights just don’t happen everywhere.

One way or another, fighting is a staple of the National Lacrosse League and it’s not going anywhere because it draws fans. Look no further than the growth of hockey in the United States for proof of what mid-game fighting can help propel.

For every one lacrosse fan disgusted by a fight, there are likely a few new spectators now watching. Or just waiting for that next pair of gloves to hit the ground.