Like every other industry, the sports world is constantly going through technology changes. The sports we watch today are quicker, the athletes are stronger, and the equipment they use is state of the art in every sense of the word.
As evidenced by this year’s World Cup and the “Almost Perfect Game” in baseball, technology can not only be used by those who play the games, but those that officiate it as well. A lack in the use of available technology caused second-guessing and turmoil at these recent sporting events.
Let’s look at some of the top technological advances in sports over the last 50 years.
Golf Clubs – In the 1950s steel shafted clubs were becoming more and more common. Even though Billy Burke used steel shafts to win the U.S. Open in 1931, the public was hesitant to give up their hickory and wood shafts. With each change in the material used in golf clubs, golfers had to alter their swing to keep the ball going straight. We then went on to graphite, Persimmon, and Titanium shafts which made the ball go further with less effort. In addition, golf club manufacturers started changing the heads of golf clubs and making them thinner. Average golfers became much better with this new technology and beginners were able to learn the game quicker. Nobody thought it would ever be possible, but the new technology in golf clubs made the sport a bit easier to play.
HANS Device – Auto racing on all levels became a lot more safe in the 1980’s with the invention of the Hans Device. This U-shaped head restraint device was developed by Dr. Robert Hubbard, an engineering professor. The device sits behind the neck of the driver and attaches to the helmet. It goes across the chest and also supports the shoulders. The device keeps the head from “whipping” forward in a crash or collision. It was the death of Dale Earnhardt that made more and more race car drivers aware of the HANS Device. Most major classifications of auto racing have made the use of HANS Devices mandatory including CART, Formula 1, NASCAR and the NHRA. The HANS Device used in NHRA races is a little different from the HANS used in other forms of racing. It is custom made for each drag racer, and contains a Nomex fabric to keep the device fro melting in a nitro fire. There is no telling how many lives the HANS Device has saved.
Instant Replay – The biggest technological advance in any era has to be instant replay. Across the board, anyone with a stake in sports can’t imagine what life was like before instant replay. Oh we can imagine, were you watching The World Cup this summer? Instant replay was first used by CBS Sports during the 1962 Army vs. Navy game. After a few kinks were worked out, slow-motion was added to the instant replay in 1965. In 1967, the Ampex HS-100 Camera also added freeze frame capability. Instant replay is now used in every professional sport in North America, and many college sports. Instant replay is used as an aid to referees and officials and there is not an important play or situation in each game where instant replay isn’t used to make the correct call. Everybody watches sports on television and today we take instant replay for granted..
Football Pads and Helmets – Those who play the game of football know all the dangers involved. There are less dangers today with all the advances made in helmets and playing equipment. A funny fact to me is helmets weren’t even required on the gridiron until 1939. Not that the leather helmet covers did much. Helmets progressed to plastic, then a plastic alloy and now a Polycarbonate alloy. The other equipment football players wear has changed as well. Pads are made much better today. New pads introduced in the last 50 years include rib pads, neck supports, and face-masks with better protection and visibility. Now players in specific positions have specific equipment they wear. Quarterbacks wear shoulder pads that they can throw easier in and linemen wear pads that ca absorb shock better. The players today are bigger and faster, but that doesn’t mean there have to be more injuries.
Scoreboards – With the exception of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park manual scoreboards are gone at ballparks around the country. Now we have HD screens and smaller digital scoreboards scattered around the country. The scoreboards show replays, information on the players, video games and closeups of anything in the stadium. I hope ballparks like Wrigley and Fenway never change their scoreboards, even though they have already made concessions to modern technology.
There you have it, my list of major technology changes in sports. Let me know some more that you can come up with.