The Problem with Lax Bros

lax broThis is a lax bro. (Photo via iStockphoto.)

Yesterday’s Globe story about the “phenomenon” of lax bros was notable for several reasons, the least of which was that it introduced us to the trend of white boys in posh suburbs spending scads of money on “spoons” for games and “spoons” for “chilling” with their fellow lax bros while listening to Dispatch (because young women don’t play lacrosse at all). Fact is, white guys playing lacrosse on the East Coast is hardly a new trend (in fact, the NCAA lacrosse finals were just played in Foxborough, Laxachusetts, over Memorial Day weekend). But lacrosse is seeing tremendous growth throughout the country, and several media outlets have recently decided the term “lax bro” is worthy of coverage when this new species is first sighted in their area. The Chicago Tribune called the concept “an ideal of chilled-out, shaggy-haired athleticism,” while the Roanoke Times described it as “dressing preppy, having long hair and wearing pinnies, or jerseys, as often as possible.”

The article actually wasn’t the Globe’s first use of the phrase “lax bro.” The paper introduced us to concept in mid-May in a rather epic parenthetical. In a piece about a BC college student Dan Kennedy’s decision to head directly to the seminary after graduation, theology professor Stephen Pope is quoted, saying Kennedy is “hardly a ‘laxbro,'” which the Globe described as “slang for a lacrosse-obsessed frat brother.” One can just imagine the story meeting that followed:

Editor: Tell me more about this laxbro culture! What? It’s two words? I need an exclusive!

The problem with the Globe‘s wide-eyed view of the consumption culture of the lax bro (“You have to have a lot of the stuff, wear it a lot of the time”) is that it failed to delve deeper into the more complex associations that lacrosse has in American culture today. Associations that come to mind when the phrase Duke lacrosse case or Yeardley Love are uttered, for example. Or the fact that male lacrosse players in the NCAA are the highest percentage of athletes who use narcotics, cocaine, and marijuana, not to mention amphetamines and anabolic steroids. (Female lacrosse players aren’t off the hook, as they report the highest percentage of athletes who use cocaine, narcotics, and amphetamines.) The sport has been burdened with a notion that it’s played with pads, a stick, and a tremendous sense of entitlement. Lacrosse players themselves are wrestling with that perception, and dealing with the hard-partying culture so prevalent in the sport, as seen in this thoughtful essay written by a player in the wake of the conviction of UVA lacrosse player George Huguely V, for murdering of his ex-girlfriend, Love, in a drunken rage:

“There is a tremendous amount of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in our game. The rest of us are enablers because we simply look the other way as these problems continue to persist. These abnormal and unhealthy behaviors are so rampant in our small world that they fade into being considered as normal and acceptable. In our culture, it’s not viewed as strange or unhealthy to get totally obliterated on a weekly basis.”

Admittedly, the Globe‘s piece appeared in the business section, so its focus on the stuff of lax bros: the flat-brimmed hats, high socks, “spoons,” and baggy shorts is in keeping with that angle. But I would have loved if the piece went beyond that and explored how the expansion of lacrosse beyond its traditional upper-middle class white enclaves on the East Coast are shaping conversations about lax bro culture elsewhere in the country. And how parents are handling the conversations with their kids. Sure, it’s fine to watch your fifth and sixth grade sons with their “little swagger,” as they pull up their socks and get into a new sport, but parents of lax bros should be prepared to have a conversation about the game and its frat-boy culture. That way they’ll avoid letting a little swagger become much bigger trouble down the road.