Why Don't More Pros Wear Pads? Matt Dunn Bucks Trend with Chest Protection


Whipsnakes LC defenseman Matt Dunn started wearing Maverik Max EKG Speed shoulder pads this summer after witnessing a commotio cordis incident as an assistant coach at Loyola Blakefield (Md.).

Matt Dunn rarely tweets.

He doesn’t feel comfortable weighing in or spouting off opinions online. His handle (@imdunntweeting) even hints at his reticence on the social media platform.

But after what he described as probably the scariest moment of his life, the reigning Premier Lacrosse League Defensive Player of the Year and U.S. national team member refused to stay silent late last month.

“I will 100% be wearing should pads/chest liner this summer,” Dunn wrote in response to a Tweet from the blog QuickStick questioning whether outdoor pro lacrosse leagues should mandate wearing shoulder or chest pads. “I’d expect to see more pro D guys in them whether mandated or not. It’s kind of crazy we haven’t been. Let’s not wait for another ‘reason’ to start suiting up.”

“The reason I tweeted that was because I felt really compelled to, obviously not for the sake of getting attention, but it almost felt like an obligation,” Dunn said in an interview last week. “Based off my experience, I thought it would have been irresponsible for me not to have said something.”

Dunn prescribes to the notion that actions speak louder than words. From the moment he stepped onto the turf at Gillette Stadium for PLL training camp earlier this month, he has worn Maverik Max EKG Speed shoulder pads, which meet the NOCSAE performance standard ND200 to guard against commotio cordis. The added protection stands out in the outdoor pro ranks, which for decades has not required shoulder pads.

“I wouldn’t really want to step on the field without them,” Dunn said, referring to the pads. “I play the same, but if I didn’t have them I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable playing the same. I didn’t feel that way a year ago.”

Dunn’s shift in perspective and sense of responsibility stems from the sequence of events that unfolded late in the first quarter of an MIAA matchup between Loyola Blakefield (Md.) and McDonogh (Md.) on April 16. Words, Dunn said, can do little justice to capture the emotions of those minutes on the turf at Hargaden Field that felt like they lasted hours.

A defensive assistant at Loyola, his alma mater, since 2020, Dunn was standing in front of the Dons’ bench when freshman defenseman Peter Laake closed out and “soaked” a shot from McDonogh sophomore attackman McCabe Millon at the point on a fast break.

Laake didn’t flinch at first. He took two steps, then collapsed to the turf.

“It didn’t look like a leg injury,” Dunn said. “As he hit the ground and didn’t break the fall with his hands, I knew it was probably shot-related, but I didn’t know [exactly] what it was.”

Laake had suffered a commotio cordis event — sudden cardiac arrest that occurs as a result of a blow to the chest. The swift response from the Loyola training staff and several onlookers saved his life.

Dunn was tasked with staying with the team on the sideline. At first, he tried to keep the players in the huddle engaged and focused for when play resumed. But as he was instructing them about what to do next, a hush fell over the field and the stands. They heard Aaron Tracy, a fellow at University of Maryland serving as Loyola’s team doctor this year, start administering CPR. Laake’s mother, Carron, let out a scream.

“We’re losing him,” someone said.

“My role at that point was to just keep the players from panicking,” Dunn said. “At that point, we took a knee and embraced each other, had a moment of silence and said some prayers.

“It was probably a couple of minutes that passed, but it felt like an eternity.”

After Laake was revived with the use of an AED and rushed to a hospital, Dunn and the rest of the Dons coaching staff received periodic texts from Laake’s father, Pete, over the next 48 hours. Dunn had gotten to know the Laake family over the past year after Peter Laake joined some of his First Class Lacrosse training sessions in the fall and winter. Pete Laake would often pick his brain on all things lacrosse. 

Now, their conversations turned toward padding. USA Lacrosse has worked with manufacturers and medical experts to introduce equipment to the lacrosse community that meets the NOCSAE performance standard ND200. While shoulder pads are already required for all boys’ and men’s field players according to USA Lacrosse (youth), NFHS (high school) and NCAA (college) rules, the only products that will be allowed starting in 2022 will be those certified by the Safety Equipment Institute as meeting the new NOCSAE standard. (All goalies, regardless of gender, were required this year to wear SEI-certified chest protectors.)

The entire Loyola team purchased ND200-compliant pads after the McDonogh game. Peter Laake, who was approved to return to the field May 1 and played in the Dons’ final four games, was not wearing any equipment that met the standard when he was hit by the shot.

Dunn described the incident as a “freak thing.” Like many, he compared it to getting struck by lightning. The knowledge of the event’s rarity didn’t dull the emotional toll.

“It was traumatic and really scarring to a certain extent,” he said.

As Dunn’s preparations for the PLL season reached full swing, he called the decision to wear some form chest protection a “no-brainer.” He recalled the time he blocked a Myles Jones shot in the summer of 2019 and thought he dislocated a rib. The times during the PLL Championship Series last summer when his mom and sisters “freaked out” after he rushed in between the pipes when Whipsnakes goalie Kyle Bernlohr was caught out of his crease on scramble plays.

Dunn had given some thought and talked to other players in the past about wearing something lightweight that solely covered his chest, but it wasn’t a priority. That less-is-more mentality is engrained in the outdoor pro ranks. It dates back to well before Dunn, a two-time captain and All-American at Maryland, was selected by the Rochester Rattlers seventh overall in the 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft.

“It’s largely because they’re branded as shoulder pads,” Dunn theorized. “I don’t really want or need shoulder pads. They’re a little bulkier, and the way the jersey fits it looks and feels better not to wear them. For most guys, it’s also a toughness thing.”

Dunn reached out to some connections he had at Maverik, who sent him a couple pairs of the EKG chest liners before training camp. Contrary to some comments on his tweet, he did not need to wear a larger Adidas jersey to accommodate the pads.

A few others have followed. On the Whipsnakes, defensemen Tim Mueller and rookie Colin Squires have also worn chest protection this season. Dunn said he knows of players on other teams who have mentioned that they want to wear pads, but was not certain whether any have done so in games. He’s not trying to force his experience on anyone else or lead a rallying cry for a PLL pad mandate. He knows he was “on the other side” in his opinion of padding less than a year ago.

But after Dunn got a glimpse of what could have happened, he believes it would be a wasted opportunity not to advocate for chest protection and take the necessary precautions.

“If everyone else was on that field that day, they would be wearing it too,” he said. “Anybody who saw that would be pushing for people to wear chest pads and shoulder pads because no matter how uncomfortable or uncool it might be, if you saw that, you would do anything to prevent it.”

For the latest list of SEI-certified chest protectors and shoulder pads that meet the NOCSAE performance standard ND200, visit seinet.org.

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