Long gone are the days of leather football helmets and hockey players who didn’t wear any helmets at all. In fact, just about every contact sport known to man has made tremendous strides in recent years when it comes to safer sports equipment. At one time, baseball players didn’t wear helmets while batting, but today even the 1st and 3rd base coaches are required to wear them. Football helmets have never been better, and hockey helmets often include a protective face shield. The list goes on and on as it applies to sports equipment safety, but a big question still looms — that is, are athletes playing more recklessly because of the perceived safety in today’s sports equipment?
New protective materials have certainly helped better protect athletes, particularly in contact sports. At the same time, however, athletes today are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before, which accounts in large part for the increased number of reported concussions each year. So while equipment has improved, so, too have the physical abilities of today’s athletes.
The relationship between perceived risks by athletes and the advances in sports equipment is an interesting one to study. Would sports be safer if athletes didn’t feel as invincible as some do while wearing today’s equipment? Or should sports equipment manufacturers continue to make the best equipment they can, even if this comes at the cost of some players engaging in more reckless on-field play because of a false sense of safety (invulnerability)?
Of course, the “X” factor to this discussion are the rules of the game, meaning the steps in which leagues take to better ensure the safety of its players. For example, in baseball we have seen advances in catcher’s equipment, but those improvements do nothing when a base runner is coming full speed and blindsides the catcher in his attempt to safely score at home. In this example, it is imperative that Major League Baseball step in and make changes to help protect the catcher (and the base runner, too), rather than simply hoping that better equipment will more safely protect players.
In the future, sports equipment manufacturers, sports medicine personnel, and sports league commissioners will need to continue to work together so that all angles to the sports safety question are adequately addressed. With athletes today stronger than ever before, it is imperative to focus on this issue so that fewer long-term and more sever injuries will occur in the future.
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