Integration of Technology in Sports

There are not many things that can unite a global audience the same way sports can. It is not difficult to see these instances during such events such as the Olympics or the World Cup, but it is extremely unlikely to successfully recreate such an atmosphere. Sports create a global village quite similar to, yet possibly more joyous than the global village Marshall McLuhan wrote about. Even with such unparalleled power, changes are still necessary for athletics. There are constant adjustments being made to sports in the forms of technology, rules, equipment, and even the athletes that participate. Some of these changes are made to protect the people involved in the competitions, others are made to create more offensive opportunities, but perhaps the most interesting changes are those being made to keep pace with the ever-changing world of technology. All of the changes made have their own impacts on the sports in which they are involved.

Technology is a major factor when it comes to how sports operate and how they evolve over time. There are also many different ways to look at what is classified as technological advancements. The first thing that comes to mind when somebody thinks of technology in sports is most likely the use of video replay and its integration and growth since its initial use in the 1960’s. Obviously since its inception, the techniques, systems, and efficiency of video replay have all drastically evolved, but the creator witnessed his invention’s impact. He noted “I changed the way things were normally done. That’s very hard to do in life” (1). The creation of instant replay led to the ability to review plays and decisions. With that ability, some basics of sports began to change. In the current age, it seems as if video review is becoming more expansive each year. There are no arguments that attempt to say video review results in fewer correct calls. However, there are still negatives to the heavier integration of technologies such as video review. The use of these new technologies is often seen as taking the human element out of the sports, therefore fundamentally changing the sports that were created centuries ago. The aspect of human error has created some of the most memorable sports moments in history. The spirit of the game comes from the human error not only in the players, but also in the officials. As well as the spirit of athletics being tarnished, a major concern with a technology such as video review is the potential damage it does to the timing and flow of a match. Momentum and rhythm are influential, yet often overlooked. With the entire process of reviewing a play taking a substantial amount of time, the adrenaline and flow can easily be lost. For both the MLB and NFL, not including officials stopping the game, finding out exactly what must be reviewed, walking to the review station, explaining the decision to all parties involved, and restarting the game afterwards, the average review time hovered right around two minutes. To go along with the time wasted, approximately half of all reviews did not constitute a call being overturned. This may not seem like a long amount of time, but when a game changing play can happen in a fraction of a second, those minutes of being completely removed from gameplay can, and does, make a monumental difference (2)(3). The main positive associated with the use of new technology is more accurate and consistent officiating. The main negative is the possibility of damaging the spirit and flow of a game. The positives outweighing the negatives is still up for debate according to many people.

With new technology coming to prevalence, new rules and regulations must accompany them. This may be the easiest area to see how new technology directly affects how a game or match is conducted. For a new rule to be fully implemented, it takes time. Like any other change to a major league, it must be approved by the governing heads of the league and usually by a majority of the teams involved in the league. With many different interests and affects for each proposed rule change, it can take a years to pass the proposal. Some rule changes connected to technology are minor while others present more of a major change. For instance, a more minor change occurred recently in the National Hockey League regarding television timeouts. After an icing occurs, television timeouts are no longer allowed to interrupt the game. This is meant to keep tired defensive players on the ice and create a more offensive, generally exciting game. This relatively new rule does not change the basic fabric of a sport. For more impactful rule changes, it is helpful to look at the National Football League. Recent times have seen concussion lawsuits and much discussion on the topic of head injuries. As a way to combat these discussions, new rules were created that limited the way a player is allowed to make contact and tackle another player. To some fans, this may decrease the excitement by limiting some of the larger hits. The new rules also have an effect on players. For a professional who has played the sport a certain way his entire life, it is not easy to change habits, especially when they have gotten him to the largest stage of the game. A player having to change his technique is much easier said than done, and it can create a disadvantage for the player who excels in the newly outlawed practices. Some changes are made to protect the athletes, and some are made to create a product more desirable for fans. Sometimes the two interfere with each other. Never do the rules have absolutely zero impact on the game that athletes and fans have grown to love.

As science and knowledge progress, the opportunities for advancing the human body arise. Over time, we are able to witness the evolution of the athlete. This is due to better knowledge on what to put into your body, how to get the most out of your body, and how to recover from serious workouts or injuries. There have been many new treatments, supplements, and drugs to help any of the processes listed above. Another key component of the advancement of athletes is the constant drive for success and superiority. Advancements in technology have allowed athletes to become exponentially better over time. A prime example is looking at the world record for a one mile run. Back in 1865, the record was a time over four and a half minutes. Less than one hundred years later, the record had plummeted and reached the first ever sub 4 minute mile in 1954. The current world record was set in 1999 with a time of approximately three minutes and forty-three seconds (4). It is easy to see the correlation between time and athletic performance. However, a common belief is that the human body is quickly approaching its limits. If, and more likely when, this happens, it will be interesting to see if there is any new technology to help push through the physical barriers that hold back the barrier. With the advancement of technology helping to advance the athletes, it is beneficial for those involved. Although, it is beneficial, it also creates scenarios previously unvisited. With such improved athletes, new rules must be created on occasion to keep the boundaries of the game stable.

As previously mentioned, athletes and rules are constantly evolving and changing in the world of sports. Equipment is not an exception. Companies strive to produce the best option so players are willing to pay top dollar for their products. Depending on its purpose, a product must stand up to the competition in the performance areas, safety areas, or most likely, both. New technology allows the safety equipment to be stronger and lighter at the same time. This is where companies cannot sacrifice structural integrity for weight. For high performance equipment where protection is less necessary, structural integrity can be compromised. For instance, hockey sticks are much lighter and much more powerful than traditional wooden sticks thanks to their construction, but anybody who has watched a single professional game in a recent season has more than likely witnessed a few broken sticks. The tradeoff of improved performance for the possibility of the stick failing is one most players are willing to make. The newer, more advanced equipment is meant to help players perform at the levels they desire. As far as safety equipment goes, helmets are the main point of focus. Since head injuries are usually considered to be the most serious, there are companies trying to innovate new ways to better protect the head. From season to season and game to game in the major football and hockey leagues, new helmets with new technologies will make their debuts. Riddell, the largest helmet manufacturer in the nation, recently unveiled their latest model with goals to decrease concussions when the head is impacted. The design is heavily altered compared to previous models, and that innovation helps keep Riddell at the top of the chain when it comes to helmet manufacturers (5). These goals to protect players also tie into the rules that are created for protection of players, especially when it comes to serious head and brain injuries.

Perhaps the largest change sports have seen with the advancements in technology is that pertaining to money. With televisions, internet, radio, and other mediums being involved in the money making world of sports business, the amount of money thrown around has multiplied. Salary caps and contracts have become much larger, stadiums and arenas have become more lavish, and advertisers have become willing to spend astronomically to get their advertisement out there. In the MLB, which does not have an active salary cap, the average salary jumped by nearly $500,000 to a record high 3.8 million dollars. With 910 current MLB players, that is a lot of money, not even including the managers and other staff members. This is astonishing considering the average was as low as one million dollars as recently as 1992 (6). The boom of the internet, expansion and growth of the television and its networks, and new gadgets with internet capabilities have all led to larger monetary gains by the league. The increased monetary inflow led to increased salaries, especially in the big market cities. With such large salaries, the intents of the athletes can reasonably be questioned. Playing a sport for passion and for love is a complete different action than simply playing for a paycheck. Somewhat connected to the idea of self-representation over different mediums discussed by Julia Watson in “Studying the Digital Self”, most fans never personally interact with their favorite players. They don’t get to discover their motives for playing in a certain city, or even playing that sport. A hot topic for the MLB to consider is their neglect of a salary cap. A decently popular opinion with a strong backing is that the lack of a salary cap allows the teams with larger incomes to possess an unfair advantage over smaller clubs. Not only is there an unfair advantage, but the integrity of the game can also be damaged. A player’s loyalty to one team can dissipate when a larger offer from better funded club arrives. The money will never stop growing because the technology involved in sports is only growing faster.

Technology and sports have become intertwined. There are many positives that are the driving force behind this continuing integration of technology into sports, but there are also some negatives to consider. From video review and television to protective and performance equipment, the world of sports is ever-changing. Athletes also change with time, and so does the nature of the sports they play. With something as unique as sports, something that holds the power to unite people from all over with countless differences, it is important to not let these changes destroy the basics that billions have come to love. Change is important, but it is also dangerous.

(1)          Schiavenza, Matt. “Instant Replay’s Quiet Revolutionary.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

(2)          “Has Expanded Replay Worked Well In Baseball? Here’s Our Call.”FiveThirtyEight. N.p., 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

(3)          “Breaking down an Average NFL Game.” SportsonEarth.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

(4)          “The World Record for the Mile Run.” The World Record for the Mile Run. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

(5)          Avila, Jim, and Serena Marshall. “Riddell Unveils Overhauled New Football Helmet SpeedFlex.” ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

(6)          ESPN Internet Ventures, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

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