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Trevor Tierney to Lax Bros: Respect the Game

Tierney takes a machete to lax bros, but I'm pulling out the cannon.

Think of the children.
Think of the children.
Jim Rogash

I'm a lot of things: a wiseass, the owner of 10 t-shirts that simply have my name in black block letters on the front (purchased so that I'd never have to introduce myself to people again), a writer with a website that often isn't even about its primary subject, etc. What I am not -- definitely so -- is a "lax bro," and there are good reasons for that: (1) I am decidedly an outsider to the culture; and (2) The "lax bro" culture makes me want to eat glass and vomit. I know that I'm not perfect (and I don't contend that I am), but I know that the "lax bro" culture is farther from perfection than where I sit currently, and that's reason enough for me to avoid it.

Trevor Tierney, a volunteer assistant coach with Denver and one of the best goaltenders to ever play Division I ball, recently addressed the "lax bro" phenomenon on his blog. I like Tierney; he has his head straight on a lot of stuff about and around the game and doesn't fear taking fire for outlining what he believes in a measured and cogent tone. As an insider to the game, it's refreshing that he shared some words about the "lax bro" culture and what he thinks about it, where lacrosse should go because of it, and how people within and without the game should actually operate in terms of culture development. Conscripting some of his words:

[I]t is important to understand where this idea of "lax bro" was created. I started seeing this culture in its infancy when I was in college (although I am open to the possibility that it started long before that). I started to notice that due to the fact that there was no professional lacrosse at the time, that some players looked at the game as a joke and not as a real way of making a living. There was an attitude that pervaded some players and teams that I came across, that it was not cool to care.

This is exactly how Professor Wampole described hipsters in her article :

"The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us."

In the same way, lax bros take on the lifestyle and attitude that proclaims, "I am way too cool to care about a stupid sport like lacrosse…how juvenile." The haircuts, the dress, the laid-back attitude and most importantly, the lifestyle decisions, all scream to the world, "I'm way too cool to care about being a great athlete, a great ambassador, a great example for the game of lacrosse." The ironic aspect of this standpoint is that these same people want to use our game as a way to look cool to outsiders. So, a lax bro is someone who is too cool to care about the game, but will use it for their own gain.

For me to say that this all points towards the fact that these people are all scared of failure, or scared of success for that matter, would be a bit presumptuous and over-simplified. My point is that, for whatever reason, lax bros do not want to be seen as people who strive for greatness. If they are in fact talented enough to reach the pinnacles of the sport, while still maintaining their lax bro image, then they can contend that they never really cared, and they were just that good. In either case, they are phonies because they are inauthentic in the highest sense of the word. Even worse, their projection of our game to the outside world is a bastardized version that holds no true meaning of what lacrosse is really all about.

Tierney chooses his thoughts carefully, which is refreshing and worthwhile; he hits some themes I haven't thought about before and drives home the kind of things that should be embraced and celebrated. If actors at all levels -- coaches, players, fans, camp coordinators, equipment manufacturers, apparel retailers, etc. -- embrace this ideal, some real change can happen. That's just the start, though. Using Tierney's thoughts as a jumping off point, those that look to make these changes will start to understand the ultimate issue at play with the "lax bro" culture: It's foundationally flawed and has few redeeming values (if any).

Keeping things within the tone that Tierney sets -- which is classy and won't involve me writing thousands of words about how the "lax bro" culture carries with it strains of being derogatory toward women without emotional mitigation and flatly disrespecting others without other redeeming value -- the "lax bro" culture looks at the themes Oscar Wilde proffered in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ignores them, assumes that the lessons in that book are inapplicable to contemporary society, and continues to propagate itself without remedy. If you're not familiar with Dorian Gray, Wikipedia actually does a good job providing a synopsis of the plot (I know!):

The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.

And that's part of the "lax bro" mentality, right? It's about socks and shoes and checkerboard shorts, and an attitude that what matters is the superficial and not what makes a human a human. It hides people from themselves because the substantive is subordinated to the superficial; punishment is only realized -- and even then isn't always accepted -- when people look at themselves and see what they've done without the ability to hide oneself behind the superficial. Pure aestheticism -- or even duplicity -- does not yield personal or community growth. In essence, when the focus is put in the wrong place, the picture becomes disfigured. In contrast to the "meathead" culture -- which actually does have redeeming value: discipline to hit the gym every day and goal-oriented physical growth -- the "lax bro" culture lacks purpose other than to exist. That's anathema to a game that is looking to establish itself as a dominate sport in American society.

This isn't to say that interest around socks and shorts and equipment is useless. Rather, the "lax bro" culture instills the idea that looking at and caring to an unhealthy level about socks and shorts is enough to sustain oneself; the ideal -- a misguided one -- exists without understanding the purpose about why socks and gloves are important (and they're more important than simple cultural movements). In other words, things that are superficial aren't necessarily devoid of substance, but superficial things can create a culture that fails to recognize the substance. We -- and when I write "we" I mean both insiders and outsiders to the game (those that functionally care about lacrosse) -- all need to do a better job at building the mentality that socks and gloves aren't an end to themselves. The more we talk about the game* and sculpt our conversations, the less impact the "lax bro" culture will have. In short, there's no problem with ingesting sugar; there's a problem when you only want to ingest sugar and don't understand that doing so is a really bad thing.

*I don't think this is discussed much, but I'm willing to bet that the "lax bro" movement -- one of aestheticism -- is due, in part, to people not actually being able to see lacrosse on television or in person. I think the more opportunities that people actually have to watch (and play) the game, the less impact that superficial drivers exist around the game. Just a thought.