Canadian Face Mask Controversy has Two Sides
The whole Canadian Lacrosse world has been working through the evolution of the regulations of our sport the past couple of years. New rules for goaltending equipment and net sizes hit us up a few years back. These days, face masks or head gear have become the centerpiece of an ongoing dilemma of what the rank and file has been asked to endure. I need to make something clear. I design and manufacturer lacrosse equipment and have been doing so for 25 years. I designed the face mask that revolutionized box lacrosse face masks back in 1999-2000 that is still worn today by NLL pros. I have been through the standards clearance process 3 times and most recently the CSA standard certification. I have some relevant experience to share.
I recently designed another face mask for box lacrosse that meets the new Canadian Standards Association protocol. Let me tell you that this process was not easy to endure and it drained most of my patience. Of course, my CSA designation passed about June 1, 2013, just in time for the end of last years lacrosse season. In the process of patience and test after test with the CSA, I Iearned a lot about what is going on here in Canada with new head regulations and the CLA changing the requirements for face masks in Canada.
So I will take a stab at explaining the state of the union and the why of our new facemask rules. Pictures have been circulating for over a year now of gory face injuries due in part to having to wear hockey style face masks that rest on your chin and have straps that snap behind the ears to hold it in place.
In the past, most lacrosse people over the ages of 11 opted for the football style of lacrosse face mask that was bolted down at each temple and above the eyes for 4 screws to attach mask to helmet. Then a football chin cup was used in either a 4-point or 2-point arrangement to ensure that if a blow was taken on the mask the chin cup would absorb the force an keep everything away from the face.
There are two arguments here. The CLA side of it and the users complaints about the switch to hockey style masks. I will try my best to capture what both sides are after.
The CLA side is misunderstood and this is where this piece can help people digest what they have implemented. In the past, the CLA or Lacrosse in Canada, hid behind a USA standard for field lacrosse NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) because in Canada the CSA did not have any lacrosse standards.
Some strange perspective to consider: You didnt have to wear a facemask at all in Senior lacrosse in 1996 and the ones who did made up homemade items or they doctored the old Cooper HM 40 mask to suit their personal needs. Regulations for equipment came slowly in Canada but by 2007, all equipment sold for box lacrosse in Canada needed to be insured and the insurance companies were looking for a standard to be met on Canadian head gear.
To meet a NOCSAE specification in 2000, I had my facemask tested on a field lacrosse helmet at the direction of NOCSAE. They told me Dont send it on a hockey helmet, it wont pass." So the reality is even when the masks of the last 10 years met a NOCSAE standard, it was only if they were mounted to a field lacrosse helmet that is one piece helmet, and not a hockey helmet.
If an injury occurred, the insurance would not cover the old face mask attached to a hockey helmet. Therefore, the CLA needed a proper standard to get its insurance policy in Canada and set out to work with the CSA to develop that standard starting around 2005.
CSA has a hockey standard and that is where it started. It is plain and simple: If in the case of injury, a player is laying on the ground or ice, they must have a mask that can be removed easily without moving the head of the injured person in case of head or spinal injury. The hinged, or flip up mask, is the standard for hockey and is now the standard for lacrosse.
The users of these new hockey style masks arent happy. As these masks have found their way to fruition in the past two seasons of Canadian box lacrosse, we have seen all sorts of pushback due to injuries and having to change to masks with lesser sight lines and more maintenance.
There have been some oversights in the development of CSA testing for lacrosse, I feel. I think the boys at CSA worked so closely with hockey standards to come up with lacrosse standards, they didn't stop to consider the plane of play for lacrosse in comparison to hockey which is played on the ground looking down. Lacrosse is played at head level with arms, elbows and shoulders all in use in the head region on any given play. The head needs to be protected more like football than hockey where arms are down at least 50% of the time.
The danger comes from any design (including my newest) resting on the chin aka hockey style. Impact on the face mask from ball, stick, shoulder or elbow has nowhere to go but into the jawline. This is where the issue lies with the legions of people who are furious because of the facial lacerations and injuries received from wearing the new CSA certified masks.
The people at CSA have set the standard and I dont think they are going to change. Health Canada put its stamp of approval on these changes last year and once it gets involved, it is basically law. An industry insider told me last summer that once Health Canada have approved a CSA standard there is no going back. When the Senior A loop overturned the decision in mid-season last summer he said to me that it was a miracle and that it wont last. He was right. Here we are again and how can this issue be resolved if at?
The CLA now has a standard for lacrosse insurance and that insurance will take care of injuries, so in essence the CLA has successfully been able to do what it needed to do. In the past, if there were an injury -- even one injury -- where there could have been a case of the CLA being sued, it would have no insurance coverage that would hold up in a court of law I suspect. That means the CLA is on the hook for any type of settlement. A catastrophic injury could actually bankrupt the CLA! We all need to understand this is the bottom line or we wouldn't have this issue on hand now.
The CSA could try to develop a better standard for box lacrosse but the last standard was very slow in the making and a new standard could take years as it did in the past.
Box lacrosse players say they would gladly sign a waiver but Im sure they wouldn't be worth the paper they were written on. Short of every player going to a lawyer and paying large dollars to have a binding document made up on their behalf that gave away their right to sue in case of injury, I think the waiver idea is not fathomable. The CLA surely wouldn't want or pay for maintenance of the paperwork unless it covered a whole division of lacrosse.
So is it safe to assume we are stuck here in this place? I know I have been working on another design to soothe everyones needs in adult lax but these things take time. Given the current CSA standard, Im not sure it would pass their new requirements anyways. It costs a good chunk of change to try.
I am not on either side of the fence here because I have a mask that can be sold for either or. The original Marty mask design has stood the test of time and continues to be imitated by Under Armour for NLL use.
My newest design is late to the CSA / CLA approved party but I feel it is a much safer mask than the other offerings in the marketplace. The new design doesnt round into the face above the nose or into the jawline like the others. It also has a stiffer foam chin cup that sits on two bars about an inch apart so your chin doesnt rest on a single bar that can easily give a pressure cut. The flat area around the eyes disperses blows evenly and not into the forehead or chin areas where we have seen the gory injuries in the last year. Safety was a large concern in the design process.
So to wrap up this article I hope this brings clarification of the why to all of you. There are lots of misconceptions out there. Times are changing and lacrosse has had to keep up with the times. Insurance coverage is a way of life and the irony is our faces are less protected but our coverage from injury is in good shape. Hopefully improvements to the standards are coming in the future.