Sports have been a large part of human life since their origin over fifteen thousand years ago beginning with races and wrestling. There is something about the physical competition to see who is the superior athlete that draws this passion out of people. Whether they themselves are competing or not does not matter. I think this is in large part due to our natural desire to reach the pinnacle of the potential of the human body and if someone does not feel the desire to reach this pinnacle themselves then they often turn to professionals to fulfill this desire. This being the case many people do not like that technology is starting to play a larger role in the sports world. Some see technology as an unfair advantage or as athletes perhaps taking the easy way to the top, but the technology is coming and there is not much that can stop it. The focus of this post will be to show how far technology has come and where it will be going from here and how it will affect the games and the culture around them. The sports that will be the main focus are football, baseball and the running of marathons. Just in the past ten years technology’s involvement in the sports world has increased tremendously and shows no signs of slowing down. Today we have technologies that can somewhat monitor athletes to detect injuries as they happen, but the technology that is coming has much more potential. From injury detection to performance enhancement and smart clothing the future looks very different from what we are accustomed to today.
In the past, there was little to no technology involved in running a marathon. If you look back at images of runners in the 80’s, 90’s, or even the early 2000’s runners wore a tank top, shorts, and maybe a watch. If you look at images today, it looks very different. I’ll begin with clothing. When speaking of clothing I do not mean changes in fashion, but how the clothing that the runners wear has an effect on their performance. Today runners wear compression pants, shirts, sleeves, etc. to keep their muscles warm and because they are wind resistant, so the run will overall be easier. There is a lot more thought into how little factors can affect their performance today. Now onto wearable technology. Every front runner that you will see running a marathon today will have at least one piece of wearable technology if not more. These wearable technologies include but are not limited to things such as heart monitors worn on the wrist and glasses with a microphone and earbuds, so runners can talk to their coaches while competing to make adjustments to best aid their performance. These “wearables” as they are often referred to have clear-cut benefits to the runners. But the future holds so much more for them. In the future the clothing that I mentioned before will be combined with the wearables to make smart clothing for the runners. It is planned that wearables will become completely obsolete to the professional runner or any athlete(Sports Illustrated). This clothing will be considerably more accurate and have a wider range of possibilities. With a smart shirt for example you could more accurately track a runner’s vitals while they are competing or with something like smart pants or leggings factors such as stride length or how the impacts of running are affecting the athlete’s muscles could all be monitored by coaches or the health staff(Humanizing Tech). This would be revolutionary for injury prevention, detection, and recovery. With these monitors you could see the signs of an injury coming and stop it from happening or stop it before it gets worse. In the case of recovery, the athlete could actively monitor their own recovery while it is happening. I personally do not see this having much of an impact of the sport and its culture. This technology’s purpose is to keep the athletes healthier and help them train and perform more efficiently. In essence this technology can help these athletes reach their highest potential while keeping the sport the same as it has been for years, so I do not see anyone being against it.
Baseball is another sport that until recently there was very little technological involvement. There have been radar guns in baseball for a long time but that was pretty much as advanced as it got for a while. Then technology slowly began to become more integrated into the game. Things such as digital strike zones to see how accurate the umpire is, technology that can determine how far a home run went or would have gone if it were not obstructed. Today we have all of these things and more. There is technology that a baseball player can attach to the knob of their bat and it records the path of the bat and can give instant feedback. This allows players to improve their swing and their performance significantly faster. Now for the future of baseball. There are plans to integrate the swing tracker into the bats themselves, so players can review the swings they take in game. There are cleats that are being developed called G-Force cleats which are made to maximize the force created and transferred by the athlete’s lower half, so they can hit and throw the ball as hard as possible(Intel). Something that I found interesting is that these innovations are aimed to make the game more exciting. In recent years baseball’s viewership has fallen behind those of football and basketball. So, it is believed if baseball players can hit more homeruns and throw faster pitches that more people will watch, and our so-called nation’s pastime will truly be worthy of the name. It is not too surprising that baseball will also use a lot of the same technology as the runners for a lot of the same reasons, but they also use it for baseball specific reasons. For example, there is a sleeve that is being developed to monitor the stress put on a pitcher’s arm, so they can see the fatigue in the pitcher’s arm and avoid injuries. Again, the health related technology is nothing but beneficial to the athletes so there should not be any changes to the game or the game culture. And the technology with the bat and the cleats are the same way in that they will only make the players better. Something to think about though is that since some of these inventions are only to increase viewership is the game already changing before the technology gets there. It seems that they are trying to make baseball a game in which multiple pitchers are throwing over one hundred miles an hour and homeruns go over five hundred feet regularly. I see baseball changing no as much just because of the technology, but because of the corporate side of the game. I can see baseball looking extremely different from what people are accustomed to today.
And lastly there is football. Just like the other sports there was little to no technology used in football in the relatively recent past. However, unlike the other sports football has a history of horrible injuries in particular head injuries. The helmets that were used in the past protected the outside of the athlete’s head but did very little to protect the brain itself. Concussions were very common and often would go undiagnosed. Then once cases of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) became more common the helmets that were used improved, but there are still plenty cases of CTE and still a lot of head injuries in the sport. CTE for those who do not know is a brain condition caused by repetitive brain trauma in which protein builds up in the brain and kills brains cell. Signs are memory problems, aggression, depression, and suicidal thoughts. With this condition being increasingly more common the NFL and associate companies have created helmets that decrease concussive forces, but there is no answer yet. There are plans for mouth guards that will have a chip implanted in them they can detect when a player has or may have a concussion(Stanford). There have also been talks for a long time now about sensors in helmets that can detect concussions, but I am not too sure if there is anything in the works yet. In the future there will be sensors in the ball and on the pylons in the goal line, so we will know when the ball crosses for a touchdown. Virtual reality will also begin to get integrated into the training of football players(HitLab). The athletes could see what it is like playing the team they are up against that week seven days before the game giving them a clear advantage to be able to see exactly what their opponent does. In addition, football can and most likely will use all the wearable technology or smart clothes that I have already mentioned because all the aspects in those two sports are also found in football. It may seem that there is not a lot of football specific innovation especially because all the injuries, but there are reasons for this. First, there is only so much that can be with a helmet and shoulder pads without putting the player at risk. And also, there is not much that can be done to prevent the injuries that occur in football because it is a contact sport and no amount of technology in the athlete’s equipment can stop a bone from breaking or ligaments, it can really only detect if it happens or alert if there are signs that it will happen. The concussion/ CTE detection technology unlike the others can have a large impact on the players of the sport in ways other than their day to day health. If problems like CTE could be detected as it happened the athletes would most likely end their careers significantly earlier than they do today. If one day the technology is found that CTE can be detected as it is forming it could mean the end of football. If it is found that CTE begins to develop at a young age, then parents will not allow their children to play and we could very well see the death of the most popular sport in the country. This can cause a lot of confliction since it is so popular. If people know that this could lead to the end of football they won’t want it to be involved as much, but at the same time how could you possibly withhold the tech if you have it. I am personally conflicted because I love the sport and would hate to see it disappear, but I would like to know if I was developing a condition that would take years from my life if it was an option. Although this technology could lead to the downfall of something near and dear to millions of people I think if it is developed it needs to be used for the greater good.
There is one technology that alone has the potential to completely change the standard of excellence across all sports as we know it. It has been called neuro-hacking or neuro-coaching. This is the stimulation of certain areas of the brain to enhance performance. This has all the benefits of steroids and so much more with little to no downside. This stimulation can make competitors faster, stronger, and have more endurance, but can also make them react faster and predict motions with a higher rate of success(Neurocoaching). This can and probably will change the world of sports as we know it. That may seem extreme, but imagine watching Michael Phelps swim when he is over thirty percent stronger than he was before or Usain Bolt with the same treatment. It would be unbelievable to see these people who are already capable of such amazing things could possibly be so much better than they are now. This would revolutionize the world of sports as we know if this becomes a common practice. This technology would change every sport that is played today. Although the culture of these sports would not be affected much the sports themselves would be very different. All of the best athletes in the world would be significantly better than they are now and the performances we are currently accustomed to seeing now would be unimpressive compared to what we would see if this becomes a common practice. The only issue with this is that contact sports would be hurt by this. With the significant strength gains the competitors in contact sports would get injured significantly more than they currently do. I believe it should be a part of certain sports because we would see many amazing feats, but not all because it could lead to their demise.
Sports have been a part of human culture since they were created thousands of years ago. Since then sports have changed a lot and are played for some of the same reasons, but also a lot of different reasons as well. Many people do not really see a place for technology in the world of sports because they feel that it takes away from the purpose. I personally believe that the upside outweighs all of the potential downside since there is very little. I see very little room for opposition with most of these technologies just because of the fact that very few of them actually change the sports. But like it or not technology will continue to integrate more and more into sports and sports as well as the athletes who play them will change dramatically in the future because of it.