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Citius Altius Fortius is Latin for Faster, Higher, Stronger and the Olympic motto. The Olympics are one of my favorite sporting events ever since I can remember.
Now, lacrosse is joining, and I have mixed feelings on it. But first, some background.
My first Olympic memories are from 1976 Winter Olympics and Franz Klammer — alpine ski racer from Austria. Years later, a friend of mine would scream out Klammer's name while tucking straight down a ski hill, which ended in a spectacular crash.
Dorothy Hamill was in the 1976 Olympics, and you couldn’t go an hour without seeing her on TV. I watched bobsled for the first time and thought it was awesome. The 76 Olympics also had the specter of the U.S.S.R., which I knew was terrible, but at that age wasn’t sure why.
The Summer Olympics in 1976 also left memories. I recall seeing the Israeli national team wearing all black, again at that age I wasn’t sure why. Nadia Comăneci of Romania captured the heart of the world in gymnastics. It was also the first time I heard the name Sugar Ray Leonard.
Most importantly, it was the birth, in my mind, of the first superstar athlete, Bruce Jenner. He won the decathlon and was hailed as the greatest athlete ever. He was everywhere. I wanted to be him, or Evel Knievel, or the Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin. In 1976, as a kid, that was as big as it got.
The 1980 Winter Olympics
I was 11; it was the height of the Cold War. There were the U.S. hostages in Iran, and it seemed like a very tough period in history. At the time I couldn’t comprehend all of it, but I knew things weren’t great. The Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York were on TV a lot. Eric Heiden dominated in speed skating and was a household name. But there was something bigger at those Olympics, the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic hockey team.
They were a bunch of college kids, not expected to make the medal round. There was something about their coach Herb Brooks. I was drawn to him. It must have been that way for the players too because they played their hearts out. I recall hearing how the U.S.S.R. crushed the U.S. team before the Olympics. The U.S.S.R. also beat the NHL all-stars before the Olympics. They were the best hockey team on the planet — unbeatable — until they weren't.
That group of college kids did the impossible; they defeated the Russians. It was amazing. In my mind, it's still the most significant sporting event ever. Al Michaels' call “do you believe in miracles?” as time ran out is a call for the ages. Dave Craig skating around the ice with an American Flag saying “where’s my dad?” while the camera followed him was magic.
The team went on to beat Finland and win the Gold Medal. Team Captain Mike Eruzione was on the podium for the national anthem and when the anthem ended he called the team up to join him. It was an amazing, life-changing event. The world seemed like a different place after that, but it got me playing hockey, and it made me love the Olympics.
Lacrosse in the Olympics
With my love for the Olympics, I am super-excited by the thought of lacrosse joining it. The IOC Executive Board announced provisional recognition to lacrosse, paving the way for it to become an Olympic sport.
Finally! The recognition the game deserves. The acceptance of lacrosse as a mainstream sport.
When I heard the news, I was excited, but just as fast, I was surrounded by negativity. The lacrosse twitter-sphere exploded. Opinions for and against came fast-and-furious. It was disheartening.
One person whose opinion I respect is Quint Kessenich. He is a former All-American goalie from Johns Hopkins and an analyst for ESPN. When I think of Long Island lacrosse, he comes to mind first. Tough, opinionated, and not afraid of telling it how he thinks it is. So when I heard his opinion about how for lacrosse could become an Olympic sport — that it would have to change the way its played, I was disappointed. Smaller field, fewer players, and shorter time were some of his suggestions. I even responded to one of his tweets about it, saying that I don’t recall baseball changing or soccer changing to be in the Olympics, so why should lacrosse. I never got an answer.
But now it looks like it can happen, and Kessenich came out with the same sentiment along with a lot of other lacrosse higher-ups. I hate the idea of changing anything about the format of the game to fit the Olympics. In 1980 I didn’t fall in love with hockey by watching a watered-down version.
If lacrosse made changes to timekeeping or used international rules, I think that's OK. But to change the number of players on the field, taking out D-poles, changing faceoff rules or more? No thanks.
I think it's akin to joining a club you’ve always wanted to be in, but you can only be accepted if you change everything you are. Who would do that? Not someone with any dignity or pride. Take the game as-is or leave it.
Lacrosse has done well enough without the Olympics, so it can continue on its upward trajectory without it. You can tell me that Rugby changed its format to get recognized by the IOC, and that's great, but the parent in me says, if Rugby jumped off a bridge would you do it too?
I'm thinking of an 11-year old watching lacrosse for the first time in the Olympics, falling in love with it, and wanting to play. He goes to his first practice, looks around and thinks 'what the hell is this, I wasn’t watching this during the Olympics.'
I know nothing stays the same. It's an adapt-or-die world. But as I said in my last article, lacrosse is a bloated mess right now, and it needs streamlining.
Think of the non-lacrosse fan giving it their first look. Think of how confusing it could be. Let's look at the sport as it is now. In high school, some states sanction it; some don’t. So it may be viewed entirely different wherever you are. Going forward, I believe high school lacrosse will be accepted as a school sport nationally which will give it even more legitimacy.
College lacrosse may be the best version of the game out there. Yes, they tweak it every once in a while, but I believe it's to improve the product.
Then you get to professional lacrosse, and this is where things can get confusing. Between the National Lacrosse League, Major League Lacrosse and now the Premier Lacrosse League, the typical fan may be lost. Although as I’ve said previously, I think there will only be one pro field league within a year or two.
Between box lacrosse and field lacrosse professionally, I think you can find a fan base that loves one or the other — not to mention those who will enjoy both.
How is Olympic lacrosse going to be changed to fit the square peg into the round hole? My fear is that it becomes a new iteration — a bastardized version between box and field that will lead to more confusion to the new fans we are trying to reach.
A confused viewer will not become a fan. There are too many options to choose from. Sure, the fans of lacrosse will watch, but I want more fans, more people to enjoy the sport. I want everyone to see what it is all about.
The general public doesn’t want to figure out new rules and regulations for a new sporting option. They like comfortable and familiar like they are used to.
If lacrosse is going to be accepted by the masses, it needs one overall format.
A familiar acronym comes to mind — KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid. I don’t have the answers, and I’m sure no one else does, but from what I’ve seen and heard this won't be settled soon.
All I can ask is that whoever makes these decisions, in their zeal to become an Olympic sport doesn’t damage the overall game.
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