Despite my gentle nature, I like my sports rough. Judge me if you will, but I always have. Within the rules and confines of sport, I have an inner-Neanderthal, and sometimes, it wants to scrape its knuckles on the Astroturf too.  

I declare this knowing full well that I have a son who wants to play sports where I will not enjoy seeing him acting as either the enforcer, or worse the one receiving the force. That is a whole different ball game. In this way, I am a hypocrite. I admit it.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting brutality is admirable. Not even close. Unsportsmanlike conduct makes me ill. Teaching our children to admire those athletes that play dirty is ridiculous. We’ve turned our human athletes into super heroes, in a culture where celebrity is king. I don’t care if a hockey player drives a black Escalade and make $12 million a season. I don’t want my son to care either.

I am talking about enjoying the physical nature of sport, within the boundaries of an arena, referees and a time clock. Rugby, football, boxing, hockey, even soccer has an element of psychology that is about psyching out ones opponent, or knocking the stuffing out them for the sake of scoring a point. I don’t pretend to always agree with it, but I do respect it when rules are followed because there is something in this aggression we all relate too.  It’s in us.

If you had told me that I would find my balance of rough sport and integrity in athletes at a Toronto Rocks lacrosse game, I would have declared you insane. But that is what happened last Saturday, when I found myself watching the spectacle of an extremely physical sport where hacking and slashing are allowed. Believe it or not, I loved it.

I swore I would never like lacrosse. I grew up in Whitby, where lacrosse was a religion. I didn’t go to that church. Lacrosse scared me.  People running around with sticks, with full permission to whack anyone anywhere, or so it seemed, while throwing a hard rubber ball around at the speed of a bullet wasn’t a sport, it was a bar fight.  I didn’t see the athleticism and I didn’t like the goon mentality. For me, the stigma remained. Somehow I overlooked it for the love of hockey. As you well know, hockey is goon-free. Sigh.

The Toronto Rocks game changed my mind. It started when I opened the program and read the players bios. These weren’t million dollar athletes with sponsorship deals. These men were teachers, police officers, salesmen, and the local superstar who works for my community’s Parks and Recreation department.

You’d never know it by the way they played lacrosse, with a brute force and dexterity that made it one of the most exciting games I’ve seen in ages.  It was an adrenaline rush from start to finish and I will never look at the skill required to play lacrosse with negative judgment again.

Was it brutal? Was there a fight? Yes. Was it controlled? Absolutely. Did it diminish the game or the sheer athleticism required to play the sport? Not at all.

Next week, my son registers for lacrosse. He may or may not be cut out for the sport. It takes a certain kind of attitude for sure. But if the Toronto Rocks players inspired, if those are his role models, I’m okay with it. (sort of).