Where does patriotism end and concern for the good of a sport begin?
As the United States' men's lacrosse team, heavily laden with Baltimore-area stars, prepares to begin defending its international title July 20 at the quadrennial World Lacrosse Games in Manchester, England, that issue of national pride versus the enhancement of a sport is being brought into sharp focus by the decision of a former head coach of Team USA to offer his expertise to Team Canada this time around.
Arlyn (Arlie) Marshall, a longtime Maryland Lacrosse Club coach who was head coach of the 1990 Team USA that beat Canada at the World Lacrosse Games in Perth, Australia, now will be trying to help the Canadians defeat many of the players he coached four years ago. And he actually had a hand in choosing the powerful U.S. defense that he'll be advising this year's Canadian offensive players on how to get around.
Mr. Marshall, a 1956 All American at Johns Hopkins and a 1990 inductee in the lacrosse Hall of Fame, was part of the selection committee that picked the members of the present Team USA during grueling tryouts last year. He knows its strengths and weaknesses as well as any member of its coaching staff, now directed by Johns Hopkins's head coach, Tony Seaman.
Mr. Marshall, who has been criticized in some Baltimore lacrosse circles for switching to the Canadians' sidelines, declined to comment about the controversy, but Chris Hall, the British Columbian who is head coach for Team Canada, praised Mr. Marshall's willingness to put national pride aside in order to improve the quality of international lacrosse.
"It's fantastic for us to have someone of Arlie's caliber helping out. He thought it would be interesting to help build lacrosse expertise worldwide," said Mr. Hall, who was Mr. Marshall's opponent in the 1990 World Series.
Having a coach from another country "is not precedent-setting" in international competitions, Mr. Hall noted. U.S. teams have done it before themselves. "The U.S. soccer team in the World Cup has a coach from Serbia; and the U.S. did it for gymnastics, when they got the coach from Romania. . . . I know Arlie has been criticized, but from a pure sport viewpoint, I think that's hypocritical. Why wouldn't Americans want to share their knowledge to improve the quality of lacrosse worldwide?"
Tony Seaman doesn't buy it. He called Mr. Marshall "the Benedict Arnold of lacrosse."
"The unfortunate part of this is that he was a big part of our team selection committee. He had private information on what we were looking for and on our philosophy," Mr. Seaman said. "If he hadn't been part of the selection committee, and hadn't been head coach four years ago, it wouldn't be a problem. But if he knew he was going to do this, he shouldn't have participated in the selection committee. And if he didn't know he was going to do this, he never should have accepted [the Canadians' offer].
"This [issue] is a little bit of patriotism. It's not like he needs it for his ego. It's selling your country out. I wish one of our coaches has been on their selection committee," Mr. Seaman said.
Lacrosse, always rough on the field, is getting rough off of it.
Neil A. Grauer is a Baltimore writer who covered the 1990 World Lacrosse Games for The Evening Sun.