Heading toward disaster: Time for women lacrosse players to wear helmets

John Steadman

June 02, 1993|By John Steadman

There's no way for an athlete of any age or sex to be overprotected, which is why Joan Haas is staging a commendable one-woman campaign to see that girls and women, playing lacrosse, are equipped with helmets. Their heads shouldn't be neglected, nor faces scarred and shattered.

Boys and men wear headgears. The female of the species deserves nothing less than the same consideration. It's all for safety's sake, wanting to do what's best for a segment of the sport that blindly refuses to realize it's better to act now, before the fact, than after a serious or life-threatening injury has occurred.

There should be equitable treatment for one and all. Yes, the same care and attention afforded to boys and men at every level of lacrosse activity should apply to girls and women.

"I can't imagine how this situation has been allowed to exist," says Haas. "I was informed by an official in women's lacrosse that if the helmet was introduced it would make the players more aggressive and take away the finesse."

Haas insists this is what she was told, that it's not a fairy tale. Meanwhile, doctors are in support of her position and want to testify that a helmet rule be adopted for all the same reasons she is advocating.

"I can't imagine intelligent and highly educated people allowing this condition to prevail," comments Haas, the mother of 11-year-old Kathleen, who attends the Cathedral School and plays lacrosse.

"I witnessed five head injuries in one game where my daughter participated. You can't believe the physical damage that can result from a collision between two girls or women in pursuit of a lacrosse ball. There's a mandatory mouthpiece regulation, which tells us that it's OK to protect the teeth but not the eyes, ears, nose and head. Such unfortunate thinking is beyond comprehension."

Joan first talked about the problem with her husband, Joe, and now has received support from Dr. Donald Cooper and Dr. Timothy Doran, two pediatricians; Dr. John Price, a plastic surgeon; Dr. Marcos Doxanas, an ophthalmologist; and Dr. John Grewe, an orthodontist.

"The emergency room at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center has handled some terrible facial injuries sustained in girls lacrosse this year," reported Haas.

She is doing all she can to bring the matter to the attention of coaches, educators, recreation directors and parents. Acclaim should be heard for her efforts. Hopefully, positive action will be forthcoming.

She says insurance companies are starting to ask questions because of the risk factor. It's her belief some aspects of policy coverage will be withdrawn if maximum care isn't taken to prevent injuries and this, of course, means fitting all players, not just the goalie, with helmets.

In Australia, where women's lacrosse is popular, accident statistics became so alarming that helmets were finally worn. And in Massachusetts, Dr. Paul Vinger, who is on the medical faculty at Harvard and Tufts, believes so much in the proposal that he was instrumental in making it a law.

Furthermore, he wants to see the same legislation adopted in Maryland and other states. Vinger even addressed the matter in the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine. He stands ready to help any organization, be it a school or recreation council, to benefit from his research and experiences.

Haas has been in contact with him, too. "There's strong medical support to bring this about," she explained. "There are more head injuries sustained than you would ever believe, plus the near-misses and escapes. I know some of the people in lacrosse would like me to quiet down but I promised myself I won't shut up until a rule is passed to protect the players. These children are so important to all of us. It's the responsibility of adults to give them every protection when they go out to play."

What Joan Haas, a one-time high school player herself, wants is for clear thinking to prevail at the policy-making level. She's a woman driven by a cause, kind of a Joan of Arc wanting lacrosse to do for girls what it has already done for boys.

Haas never wants to hear of a lacrosse player being treated for a head injury and someone saying, "If we had only listened to you this wouldn't have happened."

She merely wants lacrosse to do it for itself what should be inherent. The game should never be placed in a position of trying to defend itself in the case of a serious injury.

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