Wall Street Remains Occupied by Lacrosse Bros

Which sport, you may wonder, best suits players to trade derivatives or devise credit default swaps? No outlet has given greater thought to this question than Bloomberg News, as evidenced by a curious trend item, published on Thursday, about the preponderance of college lacrosse players in the financial industry.

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It's no secret that Wall Street tends to draw from the sporting set. Both finance and athletics require tribal loyalty, fierce competitiveness, and ultra-long hours — whether on the field or at a trading desk. But which sport, you may wonder, best suits players to trade derivatives or devise credit default swaps? Bloomberg News has dug deep on this question, and looked into the financial industry's preponderance of college lacrosse players. "It's unbelievable how many guys from different schools, all with lacrosse connections, are on Wall Street," a Major League Lacrosse coach tells reporter Scott Soshnick. "All those kids who don't have lacrosse anymore ... can put all of that time and energy into their career," one executive explains. Their "ability to cope with failure make them ideal candidates for success in the financial-services industry," says another.

For a disparate take on the alleged fitness for finance found on a lacrosse field, look no further than Bloomberg's own Businessweek, which refuted that thesis last year in another trend piece about "Wall Street's lacrosse mafia." Paul Wachter observed then, "[A] common attribute of lacrosse players is the kind of privileged upbringing that might have led them to banking careers even if they had never touched a stick," citing the high cost of lacrosse equipment and summer camps. He also cited sociological research:

“In an era of increased access to higher and elite education, the prestige requirements for elite jobs have intensified, and extracurricular activities now serve as a new credential of candidates’ social and moral character,” writes Northwestern sociologist Lauren Rivera in the academic journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Recruiters, she found, “tended to favor those sports that had a strong presence at Ivy League schools as well as pay-to-play club sports, such as lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, squash, and crew, over ones that tend to be more widely accessible and/or are associated with more diverse player bases such as football, basketball, and soccer.”

In other words, an industry dominated by white men of privileged backgrounds (as Wall Street is) will look favorably upon activities dominated by white men of privileges backgrounds (who you will find throughout collegiate lacrosse). So much for a fun trend.

Still, this idea — that lacrosse somehow prepares players for Wall Street success — continues to persist in the popular imagination. As Wachter pointed out, New York Times columnist Selena Roberts off-handedly referred to "the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street" in a column about the 2007 rape trial involving several Duke lacrosse players. (Three weeks later, Morgan Stanley hired one of the exonerated players.) After the investment firm Bear Stearns collapsed in 2008, The Wall Street Journal devoted 1,100 words to the fate of the company's lacrosse team. ("According to one old joke, the only way to get a job on Wall Street is to have high test scores or play lacrosse," the paper noted.) There's even a Business Insider slideshow called "The 42 Best Lacrosse Players On Wall Street."

Lacrosse is many things: rigorous, rewarding, and (being a sport) lots of fun for those who play it. An engine of economic mobility, however, it is not.

Photo by Nicholas Piccillo via Shutterstock

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