I am a purist when it comes to professional baseball and football as far as keeping the traditional fundamentals of these sports as they were originally created around 140 to 170 years ago. (The first officially recorded baseball game was played in 1846 and it was in 1880 when Rugby was morphed into American Football). I know that I need to be realistic when it comes to fine tuning things in this 21st century modern sports era with such technical innovations that help to make the sport safer for players and fans. Things like prevention and proper treatment of head trauma/concussions, or maybe electronics monitoring of stresses on an athlete’s body so as to help lengthen their careers and prevent injury.
But what about Apple watches for stealing signs in baseball? Doing this via the human element using team members is one thing which has stood for over 100 years, but taking the human element and enhancing this process with advanced electronics will really ruin the nature of the game. Or what about tracking ICs in the football? The next thing will be electronic jammers in the dugout and on the sidelines to prevent transmission of the RF signals or hiring hackers to intercept the signals or even to add a virus to some of the programming in the watches, smart phones, RFID receivers or computers.
The football ICs, if only used to track a player’s statistics and athletic capabilities are OK in my mind. But how about determining first downs and whether a player is out of bounds perfectly, within fractions of an inch via electronics? When you take away the ‘human’ element of a referee’s judgement (I don’t like the instant replay in baseball either), which is a method that has stood for the past 140 or so years, then you are making this a much too exact science. What’s next? Getting rid of football referees and baseball umpires and let the computer decide everything including balls and strikes or touchdowns? That’s going a bit too far for my taste. Inevitably, this technology will be abused. How can you yell at the computer and tell it that it needs glasses?
Cheating: The Apple Watch
The Boston Red Sox were caught in an illegal act recently which enabled their team to steal a catcher’s hand signals (this has been done over the course of baseball probably since the beginning, but it is not the issue) which tell what type of pitch the pitcher will be throwing to the batter. The problem emerges when the Red Sox training staff received information on their Apple watches (It is illegal in baseball to use any kind of electronics or binoculars/telescopes to relay this kind of information ultimately to the batter at home plate) and then were able to relay that information more quickly to the batter who would, call time, step out of the batter’s box and look at the third base coach or in the dugout for a sign that would tell him what the next pitch would be. See the technique here on the NY Times website.
ICs inside the football
Beginning on September 7, 2017—the first day of NFL football, every game football had a tracking IC from Zebra inside.
Zebra RFID chips for the football are on the top of this image while ICs for shoulder pads can be seen in the lower left corner of this image. (Image courtesy of Zebra Technologies)
Electronics, and the communications enabled by it, has made our lives better for the most part. That’s a good effect from the creativity of design engineers which makes the world a better place. However, electronics can be used in the wrong way such as hacking into Equifax, or listening and recording devices that invade people’s privacy (Drones, an awesome electronic innovation, are a good example of this misuse of technology).
Let’s set some boundaries to preserve the nature of sports as they were originally intended; that is, being played by mortal humans with flaws that compete on a level playing field while using the talent with which they were born, their physical and mental training, and their human brains. Let’s not have the NY Jets be better than the San Francisco Giants because they have a better piece of electronics or a really good code-writer.