Helmets for Women? Why Not

In Florida, state officials issued their first-ever requirement for girls to wear protective hard helmets in lacrosse. The changes have sparked a firestorm by players and coaches who believe the headgear requirement is unnecessary. Already, modified girls rules attempt to limit physical contact. Ultimately, assuming current women’s rules of play remain the same in women’s college lacrosse, should helmets become an NCAA requirement for women’s college lacrosse?

It starts with the differences between the men’s and women’s game. There are a number of differences between man’s and women’s rules. Women have 12 players on the field vs. 10 for men. Women’s sticks aren’t allowed to have a deep pocket like the men’s game. Men must wear helmets, mouth guards, and padding where women must wear mouth guards and protective eye wear. Aggressive checking and body contact are illegal in the women’s game while they are legal in men’s.

However, there is a difference between women’s high school and college lacrosse. More physicality is allowed at the college level of women’s lacrosse. Contact is actually allowed in the rules and women are allowed to use their hands to push girls out of the way on defense. Anyone who has gone to Peter Barton and watched a women’s college lacrosse game today sees much more contact and aggression than there was even five years ago.

According to The New York Times, school officials were worried bout the risk of serious head injuries in a sport where the players wield reinforced sticks and rifle shots with a hard, unyielding ball. Florida became the first state to require high school girls’ lacrosse teams to wear protective headgear. Ultimately, the issues fall to student safety and liability from the helmet proponents.

Dawn Comstock, an associate professor of epidemiology for the Pediatric Injury Prevention, Education and Research Program at the Colorado School of Public Health, published a study that found most of the concussions in girls’ lacrosse occurred when players were struck by the ball or a stick, a finding Comstock said was highly relevant.

“Helmets are very good at preventing direct transfer-of-force injuries,” Comstock said, describing a blow to the head by a stick or a ball. “That’s why we have construction workers wearing helmets.

On the other side of the argument, Ann Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, called Florida’s decision “irresponsible” and said the headgear decision could make the game more hazardous because it might embolden players to be more aggressive.

Many Florida players and coaches pan the requirement because the helmets get in the way of their goggles, they are bulky, hot and some argue have increased aggression. Said one player, “Already, I’ve definitely seen more aggressive play this year. Girls will put their head down and charge after a ball on the ground.” One coach said, “The more protection you put on the head, the more likely they will use it as a weapon.”

If helmets result in a more aggressive game, conduct must either be managed by the officials on the field or the rules need to changed or modified for the current women’s game and allow for more contact. I like watching both the men’s and women’s games and appreciate the differences. However, I do hear complaints from some people that women’s lacrosse is too passive. Generally, people who make that argument have not watched a recent women’s college lacrosse game.

I have watched a number of women’s college games and it is getting more physical. Studies have shown that most concussions result from stick or ball contact to the head. It only makes sense that helmets are a common sight in women’s college lacrosse – especially with recent studies on the long-term impact of traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s). Still, players’ willingness to wear helmets will only occur when and if the NCAA requires headgear. That time is surely coming.

What do you think? Assuming the college lacrosse rules remain unchanged, should the women’s game require hard shell helmets?