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The BIG Lacrosse Debate: Box Vs. Field


The age old debate between box and field lacrosse enthusiasts is a long standing subject of discussion. People typically tend to see the best in their version of the sport, and the worst in other people’s preferred version. Box gets slandered by its detractors as a skill-less fight where a lacrosse game sometimes breaks out, and field is falsely accused of being soft, slow, less-skilled, or less attractive to spectators.

Both arguments are really quite foolish. Sometimes we focus on the trees and can’t see the forest.

Bill Tanton wrote an article that really bashed box lacrosse a while back via Lacrosse Magazine, basically equating it to pure goonery. Marty O’Neill has now, some time later, written a response on ILIndoor in defense of the box brand, and while his take on things is much less partisan, dismissive, and divisive, it is just as biased, and doesn’t do much for progress.

To be honest, I’m still kind of surprised at both of their posts, as I respect both men, and their love of the game. I guess I just didn’t realize how narrowly they thought of “their” game.

O’Neill admits his bias in the post, which is refreshing to see. His article is more understanding and nuanced than Tanton’s, for the most part, and he tries his hardest to keep the debate about lacrosse, and not national identity. But at the same time, he also decides that one version of the game is better than the other, and uses almost the same methodology as Tanton to make his decision. He’s seen the Final Four a bunch of times, and wasn’t impressed. He’s seen a lot of good box. Therefore, box is better.

He gently scolds Tanton for missing the great Summer of ’62 in Ontario, and for not watching enough recent NLL lacrosse. He throws out the box lacrosse that Tanton saw in Maryland as irrelevant because the Americans Tanton did watch, who were ignorant to the finer points in O’Neill’s view, were somehow doing it wrong. He then goes on to clear some things up and make a larger argument for why box is superior; one of those points being that it’s definitely better for fans.

But just saying it in a nicer way doesn’t mean that the judgement isn’t there… or that the judgement itself isn’t still silly. Because it is.

Liking one version of lacrosse more than the other is fair. In fact, increased exposure, playing a particular version of the game growing up, and cultural differences make the concept of “liking” one game more than the other almost expected. However, labeling one as superior verges on irrational. Arguing that box is better than field is like saying that green is better than purple, or vice versa. Why even make that argument?

As someone who grew up primarily playing field lacrosse, but also playing a little bit of box, and watching the Boston Blazers of old (think green, orange, black and spandex), I got a pretty balanced exposure to both versions of the sport. I started the field team at my high school, and, more recently, a box league in NYC. I know the field game more intimately, but I appreciate both box and field for what they are, and will play either if I can. I have my issues with both, and can see how either one could help the other improve.

But the one thing I can’t even begin to see is a real argument for how one is somehow inherently better than the other. Both require skill, athleticism, good coaching, toughness, hours of practice, team play, and a high in-game IQ. There are more skilled, and less skilled, players in both games. As O’Neill notes, there are certainly differences, but he seems to miss the overlap that is overwhelmingly present. Tanton did the same.

Great players can be great players in either arena. The skills are highly transferrable, and knowing both skill sets will benefit players in either game. In the eyes of some in the lacrosse media (me), you even have to be great at both to be considered the best ever.

Let me be clear that I have no problem with people preferring one version of the game over the other. For the reasons I laid out above, it makes a lot of sense. But to say either box or field is actually better, in some officially stated manner, misses the point completely, no matter how nicely it is said.

Lacrosse is fantastic outside, and it’s splendid on an arena floor. Three on three with garbage can goals, wall ball, no-pads backyard pick up with friends… it’s all excellent. Playing catch with a friend or family member is superb. Having a stick in your hands is a privilege. Talking about which version of the game is best? Frankly, that’s just a waste of time.