ILWT Feature: The kaleidoscopic world of Brodie Merrill

Brodie Merrill. Saskatchewan Rush at San Diego Seals 01.12.20
(Photo: Mike McGinnis/National Lacrosse League)

A kaleidoscope is a tricky device that uses light to make things that are ordinary blend together to make brilliant patterns. This describes Brodie Merrill perfectly – one of the best defenders to play the game in either field or box, but a quiet, humble person.

It can be argued that Merrill paved the way for Canadian lacrosse players to come to colleges and universities in the United States in exchange for financial compensation and glory, much like Chris Sanderson did not so long ago. Sanderson was outgoing, dynamic, a jokester and had no problem standing in the spotlight – he was like a camera lens, what you saw was what you got and you were surely entertained along the way. Merrill, in some ways, is the opposite of Sanderson and he has been unfairly criticized for it.

Fans vocally criticized Merrill in Philadelphia and Boston. There was never any talk of his play, his dedication or his brilliancy on the playing field. Some fans were angry that he did not socialize with them after the game, but they were looking at Brodie through the wrong device. It is important for critics to remember that Brodie Merrill’s world best resembles a kaleidoscope and he’s more than just a public figure – he’s a person. The same can of course be said for every pro athlete, but Merrill’s unobtrusive demeanor makes him stand out.

In Philadelphia, fans were mad that he often did not come up to the bar and socialize, sign autographs or pose for pictures. The Wings were known for their post-game celebrations when the games were good and drowning of sorrows when the games were not. I only remember Merrill doing this once, and the line that immediately swarmed him would have elicited horror based on today’s social distancing needs.

HEMPSTEAD, NY – AUGUST 1: Brodie Merrill #17 of the Boston Cannons against the New York Lizards at James M. Shuart Stadium on August 1, 2015 in Hempstead, New York. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

The same was true in Boston. I was able to see him play a season ending game a few years ago before he retired from Major League Lacrosse. I heard fans saying that Merrill was standoffish and that he should be spending time signing autographs and posing for pictures with them. They indicated that he was ungrateful. They didn’t use the correct part of the kaleidoscope to see what I saw.

They missed the team huddle at the end of that game as they were packing up their things, chugging their beers and gathering their kids to go home. There was an end of year awards ceremony on the field in which Merrill picked up a defensive honour. He has a lot of these. I watched his face in complete and utter disbelief. It turned a slow red and he had a hard time getting the words out. He looked genuinely shocked. I could see that even amongst his teammates, Merrill sees himself as someone different than the rest of the world sees him. I saw this a few other times and I believe I have a different perspective of Merrill than most of the world.

I watched a man leave practice and run up to me (a stranger he did not know) and toss a jersey at me for an auction that raised money for Kyle Miller and Chris Sanderson when he played on the opposing team that night. I saw someone spend time signing memorabilia and other lacrosse items so that we could raise the most amount of money for their cancer treatments. He sprinted back to warm-ups and I never had the chance to thank him that night. For him, the virtually incognito act was what he wanted – and all the colors and shapes came together perfectly for him that night.

Sitting behind Team Canada members, I saw Merrill deliver a brilliantly eloquent eulogy at Sanderson’s funeral at Princeton University on what I swore was one of the hottest days of the year and all of the pieces came together. Those who were not crying before Brodie’s speech were doing so by the end. He had charisma as he recanted the stories that told of his love for Chris. It was, quite simply, mesmerizing to watch him deliver his words while his heart was breaking.

Unfortunately, Merrill had to go through more heartache less than a year later when Kyle Miller passed away. I remember being struck by his ability to hold it all together. My heart broke for a man who lost two close friends from two different types of cancer. No matter how hard he tried, or what he accomplished, he could not save Chris and now he could not save Kyle. It was another moment when all the pieces came together and I saw what some other people could not see – what happens when we see people for who they really are. How a guy who has little to say to people who are not in his circle will have plenty to say to those who are in his circle.

Merrill is a really good lacrosse player – one of the best – who knows what needs to be done and works hard to do all he can do to and what needs to be done to win. That doesn’t mean he loves being the centre of attention and critics need to forgive that. Remember, Merrill’s world is a kaleidoscope – brilliantly colored with many different pieces – and it is a world worth viewing.