The Other Side of Safety

August 13, 2013

One of our newest sports – girls lacrosse – is today presenting one of the oldest conundrums in competitive athletics.

On one side of the complex issues are many moms and dads who cite the dangers their daughters confront from contact to the head and face by other players’ sticks or the ball. They want hard helmets with face masks required in girls lacrosse. Many coaches and administrators agree.

On the other side of the issues are the “purists,” including the official position of US Lacrosse, who are concerned that by increasing head and face protection the rule makers would invite the kind of hard and high contact that would fundamentally alter the nature of the game and lead to more serious injuries in girls lacrosse.

This is the classic dilemma that the leadership and playing rules bodies of sports organizations have faced many times over many years for many sports.  Justifiably.

When football added helmets, then face masks and then mouth protectors to the list of required equipment, there was a significant reduction in broken noses and chipped teeth, but techniques of blocking and tackling changed. The protected head and face became much more of a target and weapon than it had been before, and the unprotectable neck and spine became more at risk.

Some would argue that ice hockey’s experience is similar to football’s history. The discussion in the soccer community regarding hard helmets for goalkeepers and soft helmets for all other players often revolves around similar questions. Will required protective equipment change the game? And will one of the changes be that the game becomes still rougher and even more injurious, trading “moderate” injuries for more catastrophic?

While the debate continues over additional head protection requirements for girls lacrosse, and other sports, both sides seem to agree that the burden of the rule makers to be out-front in the search for ways to improve the rules is matched by the in-the-trenches responsibility of coaches to teach the game and officials to administer the contests in accordance with existing rules which already place a premium on participant safety.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.