Imagine a game that combined the best aspects of multiple sports to form one, mega-sport. If you combine the back-and-forth action of basketball, the offensive and defensive strategy of hockey, the physicality of football, and the endurance of soccer, you’d have a pretty damn impressive sport. As it turns out, that sport exists and it’s called lacrosse.
This Saturday, the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) kicks off its Championship Series. In lieu of a regular season, the Championship Series will involve all seven teams competing in a 14-game group play format to determine seeding for the elimination round. Essentially, it’s a two week World Cup-style tournament that will take place in one location because of the pandemic. Plus, it’s arguably the most exposure pro lacrosse will ever have as all 20 games will be broadcast on either NBC, NBC Sports, or NBC Sports Gold.
Now that all of the administrative work is complete, let’s talk about lacrosse. Even though I discussed the PLL in the previous paragraph, this isn’t a puff piece for the league. I don’t work for the league nor do they pay me to advertise their series. This piece is about the wonderful game of lacrosse.
As the headline states, it’s time to give lacrosse a chance. As I mentioned, it combines the principles of four sports. Add a stick and you’re ready to go. As someone who grew up in a lacrosse town, I witnessed firsthand how magical the sport can truly be. In a lacrosse game, expect to see fast and powerful shots, laserlike passing, brutal hits, and miraculous saves. It’s a sport where you can control the possession with the faceoff while you’re not required to give the other team an offensive possession. Players can play multiple possessions and are not ruled to the confines of position-specialization, like football. Hell, even a goalie can score if they’re talented enough.
Lacrosse can be a thing of beauty, but unfortunately, it currently has a small, niche audience. A lot of that has to do with stereotypes that have plagued the game for years. The running joke is that lacrosse players are “rich, white, frat-bro douchebags.” As someone who played, yes, there are some lacrosse players who are rich, white, frat-bro douchebags. But you see that small minority of kids in every sport growing up.
I’ll be first to admit that some of the players’ names are “so lacrosse it hurts.” Tucker Durkin, an elite defenseman, could be the name of a cowboy who sells oil in Texas. Deemer Class, a lefty sharpshooter, could moonlight as the owner of five car dealerships in the midwest. Cade Van Raaphorst, an excellent defensiveman, could also be the name of a fraternity president in the SEC.
Lacrosse is also not as accessible as other sports. All you need is a stick and ball to start playing, but if you want to play organized lacrosse, the helmets, arm pads, and chest protectors are just some of the gear you’ll need. It’s not like basketball or soccer, where you need a ball and the right shoes. Lacrosse is predominantly played on the east coast, although it’s rapidly expanding across the country and traveling across the globe to areas in Africa, Asia, and Australia. Groups like Harlem Lacrosse are successfully diversifying the game by infiltrating inner-cities and giving more kids the opportunity to pick up a stick.
The biggest reason as to why I believe lacrosse has not reached immense popularity revolves around exposure and the lack of a big professional league. For years, the pinnacle of lacrosse was the Final Four in Division I lacrosse, which takes place on Memorial Day weekend annually. When the biggest games of the sport happen on the college level, it hinders the growth of professional lacrosse. Pro lacrosse games are not typically covered on sports television unless it involves a behind-the-back goal on the SportsCenter Top 10. You can find pro lacrosse on your tv, but it might be on CBS Sports or ESPN+ instead of the major networks. The MLL has been a league for two decades, but how people outside of the lacrosse world can name a team? I’d be shocked if the average person could name one professional lacrosse team in the MLL. Plus, when guys have second jobs outside of lacrosse in order to make ends meet as a professional, what’s the point of becoming a pro lacrosse player if you can make more money in another profession?
I bring up all these points because I think we’re at the turning point for lacrosse especially at the professional level. What Paul Rabil, the most popular player and co-founder of the PLL, is trying to build with the Premier Lacrosse League could be the start of something special. Big corporations like Ticketmaster and Gatorade are buying into the league’s mission and putting their money where their mouth is with sponsorships. Having a major network like NBC to showcase all of the games is critical for exposure. Last but certainly not least, the PLL has the best players in the world competing at the highest level. With more guys becoming full-time lacrosse players, the product on the field has significantly increased. All of these aspects together form a perfect storm that’s ready to infiltrate the homes of many Americans.
So throughout these next two weeks, when every major sport begins to return, turn on NBC or NBC Sports and give lacrosse a chance. You might even like what you see.
Will you be watching the PLL? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.