One on One - "A Life in Lacrosse – Jim Brady"
Born and raised in Oshawa, Jim Brady has spent a life in lacrosse. Since 1953, he has been involved in lacrosse at essentially every position one could take on – an organizer/administrator; a referee, a coach, a manager; a team and league executive member; and Commissioner. His long and distinguished career in lacrosse included significant accomplishments in the specific cities of Oshawa, Whitby and St. Catharines. Even more so, Jim Brady served as the Commissioner of Major Series Lacrosse for a period approaching 20 years. In that role, his impact on lacrosse across Ontario and Canada was equally significant.
Jim Brady’s long list of well-earned awards include:
• Selected as OLA Mr. Lacrosse in 1984
• Inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse of Fame in 1988
• Sportsman of the Year in St. Catharines in 1990 and 1991
• Inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1998
• Inducted into the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2004
• Awarded the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Award in 2012
• Inducted into the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame as part of a team induction with both the1970 B&R Transporter Jr. 'B' Lacrosse team and the 1980 CBC Builders Jr. 'A' Lacrosse team in 2006
• Inducted as a Lacrosse Builder into the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame in 2013
Team and/or League Accomplishments/Contributions
• With Whitby when they won the Junior “B” National Championship in 1970 and 1974
• Elected 3rd Vice President of the Ontario Lacrosse Association in 1978 and 1st Vice President in 1979
• Was the Ontario Lacrosse Association Junior “A” Coach of the Year in in 1984, 1989 and 1998.
• As a Coach or General Manager, he has been to eight Minto Cup championships winning with Whitby in 1980 and St. Catharines in 1990, 1991 and 1997.
• General Manager in the NLL with New Jersey / Anaheim in 2003/2004
• Major Series Lacrosse Commissioner - 2000 to 2016
In 2019 - Major Series Lacrosse introduced the "James Brady Award" - presented for "Dedication, Passion and Commitment to Major Series Lacrosse"
(This interview took place with Jim Brady in his home in the Summer of 2018)
#1. To confirm, when did you take over as the Commissioner for the MSL?
I took over in the year 2000, I finished my role in that position after 2016.
#2. How is it being Commissioner? It seems like a thankless task. You get zapped by the team owners; you get zapped by the fans regularly. How did you enjoy being the Commissioner?
I enjoyed it - Yes, it was good. First of all, if people knew me, they didn’t crap on me very often. For example, one of my first trips to Peterborough as MSL Commissioner, Jamie Batley crapped on me. Well, within a half hour, he knew that he wouldn’t crap on me again. And with time, we became personal lacrosse friends. I worked very well very with people who are respectful – you give me your opinion and I give you my opinion and we come up with a solution. In fact, Peterborough was a place I could go into their dressing room after a game and win or lose, the coaches and players treated me with respect.
I didn’t find being Commissioner difficult. I acted with integrity. I did what I thought was right and I knew lacrosse inside and out. Decisions I made were generally accepted because I had logic and reasoning behind them.
#3. What is the most important trait a Commissioner has to develop to survive and thrive in the job?
A Commissioner has to be able to listen to people when they are angry, irritated and unhappy. They are not coming up to tell you what a fine fellow you are or what a great job you are doing. They are very often coming to you with what they perceive as a problem. As long as you listened to them, things would work out. And because I had operated teams, I could listen and understand their view - I never wanted them to feel bad about decisions I made. I knew what it was like to operate a team. I always was empathetic, but I never backed off when it was time to make a decision of what I thought was right.
#4. When you took over in 2000, what was the state of the league at that time?
It wasn’t that good in 2000. The previous Commissioner had been in the position for only about a year and then he quit. I heard the MSL were looking for a Commissioner and I let them know I was interested. I was interviewed by the MSL owners and they selected me. It was a decision made by the MSL Board of Governors. The OLA had absolutely nothing to do with me becoming the MSL Commissioner.
My first priority was to get insight as to how the teams were operating. I had operated my own teams and had plenty of experience on what it takes to be successful. I took time to learn what each team wanted to do to help their organization and in turn, help the MSL. It was about making intelligent and rational decisions. And avoiding having any jackass owners. I operated the league with the objective of being the best league it could be, to be successful. And that mindset worked for me in keeping focus on what was best for the individual teams and the league as a whole.
#5. Were there times you thought, this league is a gong show – I am not sure it is going to last?
I never did. The people running the teams were running with the minimal of assistance and doing the best they could. It was important that they knew I respected them for what they were doing. The team operators knew they could call me up anytime to discuss any issue or concern they had. If I could help them, I did. For example, if a team had a problem with the schedule, I would contact the clubs involved and negotiate a solution. And sometimes, they had to accept, it is going to happen this way and that is my decision.
#6. Let’s talk MSL and the future – Your thoughts?
I think the MSL’s biggest problem or challenge is the number of teams. There are only six teams and sometimes you feel like one or two teams are just hanging on. We had to work hard to get Cobourg to come in when they did. St. Catharines should be in. For that to happen, they need better financial backing and more fan support, but a team out of St. Catharines would be good.
#7. How about the Quality of Play? From your perspective – How good is the MSL right now?
It is amazing, absolutely amazing. I cannot believe how people talk about the NLL. There is not a pro team that could beat the MSL champion team.
#8. Your thoughts about the MSL versus the NLL?
I see the NLL as somewhat of a public relations social event of our game. They change the rules, they have cheerleaders, they make it an event. I don’t mind going to an NLL game, but if you go to an MSL game – you are going to see competitive players that care! The NLL league is a weekend league. The message is about trying to be a professional sport with players getting paid.
Players in the MSL – they want to win the Mann Cup! It is a lacrosse tradition that goes back forever. If you can tell your family or friends you were on a Mann Cup team – there is no comparison. Winning the NLL may be nice, but it is not winning a Mann Cup. The Mann Cup is truly the holy grail of lacrosse.
#9. Your thoughts on marketing the MSL – How do we grow the game? What do we have to do to reach the next level?
I think the fundamental challenge is for all MSL teams is running their own team. For the most part, we have not had the resources to market the league As a Commissioner - the role is to run the league, ensure each team is healthy, the players are looked after. There are not people in place who are dedicated to marketing the MSL. Lacrosse is simply not on the sports radar screen as it could be. It is difficult to even get coverage locally. With the demise of a daily newspaper in all but Peterborough, it is not easy for MSL teams to get regular media exposure even in their own municipality.
I don’t have the answer – I do not know how lacrosse can advance itself. I would say that the OLA had done a decent job supporting the growth of minor lacrosse. But the OLA has done nothing to help grow MSL. I think the OLA could put it on the top of their “To Do list” to help the MSL market itself.
If you go to any MSL game, the caliber of play is incredible, the stick skills of the players are fantastic. Sometimes, you can’t believe how good it is to watch. Players are like magicians with their sticks. The athleticism is incredible. The difference of play between Junior “A” and MSL is huge. It is young developing players versus professionally skilled players. Junior “A” is a fine spectator sport, but no way does it compare to MSL for fan appeal. The MSL teams are comprised of the very best players in the World. And you can include the Western Lacrosse Association in that regard as they too have great lacrosse..
#10. What is your view of players being paid to play MSL?
I look at it this way. None of them get paid enough to quit their job. So, some of them pocket a few bucks along the way. But, none of the players are getting rich. MSL players are not in a professional league. They are professional at what they do - but, no one is making a living from playing MSL lacrosse.
And it is a tough game to play. Any one who can play MSL level lacrosse is tough. Teams sometimes have a designated tough guy who supposedly will take care of business, but every player has some degree of toughness Shawn Evans out of Peterborough is a good example. Evans is a classic lacrosse player…skilled and tough. I found out watching him play - in order to stop him – you have to have a knife or a gun! They beat the hell out of him, but he doesn’t back an inch. Nothing intimidates him. He has done some stupid things, too, but the results prove themselves. The point being, you don’t last in he MSL, if you are not somewhat tough.
#11. Jim – you are a tenacious man. You are very experienced and wise – a lacrosse man who is highly accomplished and highly respected. I think it is fair to say you are a fighter for what you believe in and you have made huge contributions to the game of lacrosse. Given that – if you were to give one piece of advice to others – the greatest life lesson you learned is?
I think the most important thing you have to do is mentally put yourself in the position of others and how what has happened impacts them. My message to any player is simple….if you are successful in lacrosse, you are likely to be successful in life - including marriage, work and other relationships. During my working career, I was in Human Resources/Personnel in my job, I understood the importance of people being proud of themselves. How accomplishment and success lead to more accomplishment and success.
Editor’s Note: Even after having actively stepped aside from lacrosse, Jim Brady is still sought for his advice. Since taking over as the MSL Commissioner in 2017 - Doug Luey was recently asked to comment on the almost two-decade reign of Jim Brady as Commissioner of MSL. Mr. Luey responded:
“Jim Brady's passion, dedication and leadership played a pivotal role in making Major Series Lacrosse what it is today - the best lacrosse league in the universe. When I became Commissioner, I knew I had big shoes to try and fill. Jim's help and guidance through the transition was and still is, greatly appreciated”.