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The PLL is the most exciting form of lacrosse for many reasons, fighting is not one

There has been little talk about the PLL’s high level of play on the field. Instead, the online lacrosse community is at odds over allowing fighting in the game.

PLL Chaos in the Redwoods Brawl

The PLL is preparing for its fourth week in its inaugural season, and so far, it has given lacrosse fans a lot to be excited about. In the three weeks of the new league’s existence, five of the nine games have required overtime to be decided. Of the nine games, seven have been decided by one goal.

The gameplay itself has been nothing short of exhilarating. The pace of play has been as fast as it’s ever been in field lacrosse thanks to a shorter field and 52-second shot clock. There’s been physical defensive play, nifty stick checks and huge saves in net. We’ve seen mesmerizing behind-the-back goals, long-range two-pointers and even face-off specialists and long stick midfielders in the goal column.

All these things have made the game arguably the most exciting form of the sport right now. Yet currently, there is very little talk about the high level of play on the field. Instead, the online lacrosse community is at odds over an incident that occurred in the third quarter of the Redwoods-Chaos game.

The brawl that got people talking

With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, a brawl between the teams occurred that saw Chaos defender Jack Rowlett cross-check Redwoods midfielder Nick Ossello in the helmet and goaltender Riorden pick up Ossello and body slam him to the ground. The action wasn’t over yet though, as Nick Ossello got up and threw a punch at Riorden that landed on the side of his helmet.

Once the scrum subsided, fans of the fastest sport on two feet had to sit through eight minutes of deliberation between the officials before the penalties were announced and another three minutes before play restarted. The biggest shocker? No one involved in the fight was ejected. Instead, Jack Rowlett was called for a one-minute unsportsmanlike and Blaze Riorden was given a two-minute unsportsmanlike. Nick Ossello was given a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty and a five-minute misconduct for his sucker punch. All penalties were non-releasable.

So other than the Chaos losing their starting goaltender for two minutes and the Redwoods losing their third-line middie for an extra five minutes, neither team suffered much. Yet this incident set off a social media storm that has reverberated into this week, and likely will the remainder of the season.

So that’s how we’re going to play?

So to recap, a professional lacrosse player threw another player to the ground and the other player threw a punch that landed, but neither received an ejection of any kind. At any other level of lacrosse, you’d see an ejection and a suspension would likely follow depending on the level of play. In fact, if you throw a punch in three of the four major professional sports leagues, you also get ejected. Yet, it is allowed in the PLL.

But here’s where you’ll stop me and point to how other professional sports like the NHL and even professional lacrosse’s box form the NLL allow it. Yet, just because these sports allow it, doesn’t mean professional field lacrosse should accept it. Just look at how Olympic hockey handles fighting. Where the NHL allows it, Olympic hockey prohibits it, but the Olympic version isn’t any less entertaining. Furthermore, the NHL has shifted less of a focus from fighting than in prior decades.

I’m not one of those guys that believe men’s lacrosse shouldn’t be a contact sport. In fact, I’ve been fairly vocal about how I like the physicality of the PLL games so far. Pushing and shoving in the heat of the moment doesn’t bother me. But you have to draw the line somewhere and I don’t believe allowing players to get into fist fights is the right route to take..

It didn’t end there though. On Sunday in the Chrome-Atlas game, we saw John Galloway get cross-checked by Connor Buczek and then Chrome defender Joel White literally tackle Connor Buczek before a scrum broke out. Is this what happens after cheap shots? A tag-team wrestling match?

This makes me recall one of my favorite quotes from the hockey movie Miracle when Coach Herb Brooks describes a scrum between his players. “Does this look like hockey (lacrosse) to you? It looks like a bunch of monkeys trying to hump a football to me.”

The PLL isn’t Paul Rabil’s “beer league” and as someone who has spoken to him about his vision for the PLL, I’m sure he’d take exception to that claim. But if this type of misconduct is allowed, it will certainly begin to feel like a glorified men’s league and not the elite professional league that the Rabil brothers envisioned.

It’s one thing to allow fighting, it’s an entirely different thing to promote it

Yet, the PLL has made it clear it allows fighting, so I should just shut up now right? Not so fast. The PLL has not just made it clear that they allow fighting, they’ve gone ahead and promoted it ahead of the better and more exciting parts of the game. You wouldn’t know Josh Byrne scored the game-winner in overtime of the Chaos-Redwoods game just by looking at the PLL game recap photo. No, the Chaos attackman who scored two goals and one assist was overlooked in favor of a photo of a fight between a goalie and a middie with two groundballs and one turnover.

Recap photo chosen for the Chaos’ overtime victory against the Redwoods. (Photo courtesy of PLL)

It’s one thing to allow fighting, it’s another to actively promote it ahead of the highlights that make your sport interesting in the first place. If I want to watch two guys body slam and punch each other in the most pathetic fashion, I’ll watch the WWE. I watch lacrosse for the fluid, fast-paced play and jaw-dropping goals that belong on SportsCenter’s Top 10. I guarantee you won’t see Ossello’s punch on SportsCenter Top 10 or any sports countdown show for that matter. Yet apparently you will see it used by the Redwoods’ social media team to wish all fathers who taught their sons how to throw a punch a “Happy Father’s Day.”

Furthermore, what lesson does this teach young lacrosse players? How much harder will this make youth coaches’ jobs of explaining to their players that fighting isn’t acceptable? We already know it’s a challenge in youth hockey. And while you can argue with me that it’s not the PLL’s jobs to be parents all you want, I think it’s a bit hypocritical for the PLL to be running youth camps and partnering with US Lacrosse—the main governing body in youth lacrosse that focuses on growing the game and places an added emphasis on safety!

What this means for the league going forward

If the PLL wants to condone in-game fighting, then fine. I’ll still watch for the 99 other reasons that make the PLL exciting. If the league wants to continue to promote it and attract the type of fans that watch sports for the violent extracurriculars more than the game itself, then so be it.

Just don’t be surprised if these decisions alienate both current and potential new coaches, parents, players and fans—the same coaches, parents, players and fans that have been tuning in weekly to watch the best players in the world not grapple and throw punches, but play lacrosse at the highest level the sport has seen.

Hutton Jackson is a professional video editor, co-founder/host of Pro Lacrosse Talk and editor-in-chief of Lacrosse Playground. He is also an Emmy-winning associate producer with two major sports networks and oversees Lacrosse Playground's video content as the head coordinating producer. Hutton played four years of college lacrosse at DeSales University where his highest lacrosse accolade was being named to Inside Lacrosse's 2014 All-Name Team with current pros Challen Rogers, Deemer Class and Larken Kemp, an honor that didn't require stepping on the field. When he's not writing on lacrosse, he can usually be found diving around the crease in your local men's league and ranting about Baltimore and D.C. professional sports.

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