By AJ Apel
COMMOTIO cordis is a condition in which an abnormal heart rhythm and cardiac arrest happen immediately upon an object striking the chest directly over the heart at a very critical time during a heartbeat.
This rare injury is one of the main reasons for the increased heart protection for lacrosse players. The U.S. Lacrosse board of directors, who are in charge of all the rules and rule changes, came to a decision in the fall of 2019 that required all lacrosse goalies are required to wear chest protectors that meet the new NOCSEA (National Operating Committee on standards for Athletic Equipment) standard of protection (NOCSEA ND200).
The original rule was implemented only for goalies because of the repeated shots to the chest that they would take. It would not be until January 2022 when the rule would be enforced to field players and not just goalies. This change came from an increase in cases of commotio cordis in youth lacrosse. The one that sparked the most news coverage was that of Peter Laake, a junior on the Loyola Blakefield (Md.) boys lacrosse team when he was struck in the chest with a shot during a game against the McDonogh School and went into cardiac arrest. Luckily, he was revived by the school’s athletic training staff and sent to the hospital where he was able to recover to full health.
This new rule is being implemented across almost all levels, from youth through college, but with this you would feel like there would be some sort of backlash.
That’s not the case with this rule; many parents are grateful for the added protection for their children and they are willing to pay for new shoulder pads to make sure that they are safe.
Parents aren’t the only ones that are excited about the added protection; so are athletic trainers including Nate Cooke, York College’s head athletic trainer. “The new requirement for our athletes to have built-in heart guards is a game-changer,” he said. “Working in college lacrosse I have seen plenty of guys get hit in the chest with 80 or 90 plus mph shots. This new addition alleviates some of the worry that comes with the game.”
There is one area of lacrosse that has yet to adopt the rule for added heart protection, and that is the Premier Lacrosse League (PPL), which is the highest level of lacrosse in the country. It does not require this additional heart protection nor its field players (except rookies) to wear any form of shoulder pads or chest protectors.
The York College men’s lacrosse team has three PLL players on the coaching staff: Matt Whitcher (PLL WaterDogs), Ryan Drenner (PLL Cannons) and Ryan Kennedy (PLL Redwoods). Drenner and Whitcher are both veterans in the league and are not required to wear shoulder pads.
Asked how they felt about there being no such rule and whether they think a rule were to be implemented. Drenner said he is not worried about being hit in the chest because he is the one shooting the ball and is very rarely in front of the goal, On the other hand, Whitcher said that he would be OK with the rule being implemented. “As a defensive midfielder I have to stand in front of some of the hardest shooters in the world and occasionally get hit by the ball in some part of my body” he said. “Having to wear the shoulder pads with a heart guard, I’d feel safer about getting hit and not have to rush to turn away from the ball.”
Kennedy, a rookie defenseman, said that having to wear the pads in college “it was definitely a feeling I was familiar with, but just knowing I had a little more protection I felt safer.”
Asked if he would continue to wear shoulder pads if they weren’t required to, he said: “I definitely think that I will, not just for the physical protection but to put myself mentally at ease, having to stand in front of the fastest shots in the world is scary to say the least.”
The chest protectors are built into the shoulder pads, so that means the total cost for the equipment has increased 30% to 40%, from around $125 for those who play in the field to $180 for those who play in goal.
Still, with commotio cordis gaining more attention on a national level, sentiment is growing for increasing protective measures at all levels of lacrosse in order to minimize or possibly eliminate the risk for such a serious injury to such a vital organ.
AJ Apel is a sophomore Sport Media Major and a member of the men’s lacrosse team
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