Back in my day we played sports. The only thing that we used for protection was an ill-fitted plastic cup that fit over the "bathing suit area," which prevented us from feeling the world’s worst pain. Child birth ... OK ... maybe the world’s second-worst pain is a shot below the belt. Now, I’m sure the generations that watched us play were saying the same thing I’m about to say, "These athletes today are soft!" There is so much protection out there it’s a wonder they haven’t introduced some sort of professional bubble wrap. At a high school level, I don’t disagree with the extra protection. Let’s face it ... high school students are largely unproved and are capable of making a mistake that could really hurt someone. But at a pro level ... well, it looks as though they’re getting soft.
I was watching ESPN the other night and saw a highlight of San Diego Padre pitcher Alex Torres, who, at first glance, I was convinced lost a bet and had to head to the mound wearing a Gazoo (a cartoon character whose helmet was easily the size of his entire body) Helmet. Because, honestly, why would you leave the dugout looking like that on purpose? But after further review, this is the latest piece of safety equipment to ruin the game. Isoblox is the company that seems to have liquored up the Major League Baseball front offices enough to allow this helmet to be pushed into an actual game (well, a Padres game anyway).
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in safety. When I was playing ball in high school and college, a new innovation was the steel-toe cleat. I bought a pair, and if you’ve ever smacked a ball straight down onto your toe, then I’m sure you bought them too. It made sense, it was smart and the best part, you couldn’t see it. Then they created the "shin pad" for your forearm. If you leaned over the plate another smart acquisition, because it protects that exposed bone from getting cracked with a 90-mph fast ball. But the fashion of the game started to take on an armored feel. You might have taken it off at first base, or if you were lucky enough, you trotted around the base paths touching all four.
Then they started with the instep guard, followed by the ankle guard, the elbow guard, and the face guard. Now some of these guys walk to the plate looking like a storm trooper stunt double. All in the name of safety, right? And nobody said safety was fashionable. So on the one hand, I like that these things exist, they prevent injury and who’s not a fan of that? But the flip side of the coin says -- What happened to playing the game like a man?
Seriously. Technology has taken over every sport. Even the sport I compete in, triathlons, and specifically, Ironman Triathlons, which consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run. This year we use wetsuits that help swimmers float and swim in what is normally safe open water. In 1978, when the first Ironman was held, they swam in Speedos and board-jam shorts in shark-infested waters. In 2014, we use bikes that are designed to keep you in an aerodynamic position and weigh eight pounds with helmets that are shaped to cut through wind. In 1978 the bikes weighed 40 pounds and you wore a Styrofoam cooler duct-taped to your head. In 2014 our clothing wicks sweat while you run in sneakers that give your foot a nice bouncy return off the pavement. In 1978, they wore cotton that held all the sweat and you actually weighed more at the end of the race than you did when you started and your shoes, well let’s just say "Run, Forrest, run."
Some sports needed extra safety measures and those are the contact sports. But, for the rest, I gotta ask, what the hell is up with that?