As today’s athletes continue to improve in strength, speed, and endurance, sports equipment has advanced in response to the increased risks inherent (AHPS).
No longer do football players wear leather helmets without facemasks, nor do hockey players go helmet-less. Whether its better cleats, more durable padding, or safer sport venues, athletes today seem to be far less at-risk than the generations of athletes that played before them…but is this really the case?
A recent ESPN the Magazine article (May 16, 2011) brought to light an interesting angle when assuming that:
better equipment = safer sports.
More specifically, the article discussed a very real, yet often overlooked concern that occurs when sports equipment improves:
The perception of safer equipment may create a false sense of security for athletes, prompting them to play even more dangerously as a result of their mistaken over-confidence.
It is certainly plausible to believe that some athletes who feel invincible by wearing their equipment may actually take even greater risks on the field because they falsely believe they simply cannot get hurt. Unfortunately, as we have witnessed in football with spear-tackling, serious injuries still can (and do) happen quite frequently, even with the most advanced equipment to date.
The ESPN article examined the sport of womens lacrosse as an example of potential perceived confidence if a helmet mandate is introduced. While the helmets would better protect against head injuries, they might also allow some players to take more chances with the false belief the helmets will guard against all injuries. Without mandatory helmets, the assumption is that most players think a little more about taking unusual risks.
Of course, it goes without saying that sports leagues should always consider new advances in sport technology that will lead to safer sports play. At the same time, these decisions must not be made in a vacuum devoid of other variables that should mediate the decision – like the womens lacrosse example. While it may be hard to believe, a perceived safe measure might actually create even more injuries becuase of riskier play.
What if the day comes where cars are designed to go twice as fast as they do today – would that help or hurt professional car racing? Faster cars would be more fun for fans, but would almost certainly increase the number of fatalities.
Sports commissions from every sport in the world must continuously examine the delicate balance between pushing a sport to the limit while maintaining serious considerations about potential risks.