Implementation of Technology in Sports

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Factors at the interface of society and technology influence technological advancements in sports. Technologies, including hockey goalie masks, performance-enhancing drugs, fantasy sports, and video replay, changed sports. Some technologies have been successes and have worked to become integrated into the sport.

The Evolution of Hockey Masks[edit]

Modern hockey goaltenders rely on form-fitting fiberglass composite masks to protect their face and skull from frozen pucks of vulcanized rubber traveling at speeds up to 100 mph. "I can't imagine going out there without a mask," said New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron. "Getting pucks shot at you… or a skate or a stick. As a goalie, you’ve got these scrums in front of the net… that would just be unbelievable[1].”

National Hockey League referees stop play when goalkeepers lose their facemask, unless there is a clear scoring opportunity[2]. Yet, prior the 1959-1960 NHL season, masks were almost unheard of in the league. Traditionalists thought masks detracted from the purism of the game. Chico Resch, longtime NHL goaltender and commentator, grew up watching pre-facemask era goalies and described them as “the most courageous athletes ever[1]."

Men like Andy Brown, the last goalie to play without a mask, embraced this fearless image. Others suffered like Glenn Hall, who vomited before games and between periods, continuously contemplating retirement. “I sometimes ask myself ‘what the hell am I doing out here,” he said. He wasn't alone. Frank McCool and Roger Crozier developed ulcers, while Terry Sawchuk became depressed and abused alcohol[3].

Early Introductions[edit]

Early 1920's era goaltender's masks originated from contemporary fencing or baseball catcher’s masks introduced 50 years prior. Photographs show a goaltender in Switzerland wearing a catcher-style mask, while other sources indicate Elizabeth Graham of the Queen’s University hockey team wore a fencing mask at her father's behest[3]. Masks became popular amongst amateurs, but NHL goalies still refused to wear them for fear of perceived weakness. Clint Benedict became the first NHL player to wear a mask after badly breaking his nose in 1930, but discarded it just five games later. 29 years would pass before full time masks became a fixture in the league.

Jacques Plante[edit]

Montrealer Bill Burchmore began experimenting with molded facemasks in late 1958. The following year, on November 1, 1959, a rising shot struck Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante in the face,knocking him to the ice and requiring seven stitches. Plante, who had worked with Burchmore the previous summer to develop a practice mask, refused to return to the ice without it. Coach Toe Blake, with no replacement, had to comply. [3] Despite Blake’s protests, Plante's mask stayed and the Canadiens won 18 consecutive games.

The Painted Mask and Perceptions Today[edit]

Goalie masks remained controversial until the 1970s. Traditionalists saw the white, haunting masks as an insult to the game. This perception changed when Gerry Cheevers of the Boston Bruins tried to leave practice following a puck strike to his mask. Unimpressed, the coach ordered Cheevers back to the ice and the team trainer, in jest, painted stitches on the mask where the puck had struck. The stitch painting became tradition; Cheevers would add more stitches after each impact. Soon goalies all over the league painted designs on their masks to intimidate opponents, display nicknames, or advertise pop culture preferences. The artwork grew more complex and fans even began voting on their favorite designs. Over the course of a few years, painting transformed goalie masks from an affront to the league to a beloved part of the game.

Steroids and Sports Enhancing Drugs[edit]

Early History[edit]

Performance enhancement originated in Ancient Greece when Olympic athletes consumed sheep testicles in the hopes of improving their athletic abilities [4] [5]. While it is doubtful these athletes and trainers knew the exact effects of testicle consumption, their actions jumpstarted the steroid age.

Modern Implementation[edit]

The true steroid era began in 1931 with German chemists Adolf Butenandt and Leopold Ruzicka, who purified and synthesized the hormone andosterone [6]. Both Nobel Prize winning scientists were under the direction of Adolf Hitler, developing chemical compounds to improve Nazi soldiers’ stamina and ferocity on the battlefield [7].

The Soviet Union took advantage of the German research by injecting their Olympic athletes with testosterone propionate in the 1940s. The Soviet Olympic successes and perceived athletic superiority became effective Cold War propaganda tools [8]. Initial U.S. reluctance to use steroids, due to negative health concerns, dissipated after John Bosley Ziegler developed methandrostenolone [9]. The FDA approved and mass produced hormone helped the U.S. Olympians close the medal gap and contributed to society’s acceptance of anabolic steroids.


By 1967, steroid use was common among Olympic athletes. Athletes enjoyed reaching personal milestones, while fans appreciated the entertainment provided by these impressive feats. Steroids were perceived as a catalyst for competition. However, scientific doubts about steroid effectiveness [10] coupled with negative health side effects led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to implement full-scale drug testing programs in 1972 [11]. In addition, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act and the Steroid Control Act were passed to limit the legal use of anabolic steroids [12].

A public backlash against athletes using steroids started in the late 1980’s. The first major steroid scandal occurred when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson (sprinter) defeated heavily favored Carl Lewis in the 1988 Olympic Games, only to have his medal revoked for testing positive for anabolic steroids [13]. This was only the first of numerous controversial cases involving the illegal use of steroids in sports, others including:

    •Jose Conseco, MLB player
    •Marion Jones, track and field Olympian
    •Roger Clemons, MLB player
    •Lance Armstrong, cyclist
    •Alex Rodriguez, MLB player
    •Tiger Woods, PGA golfer

The steroid debate may have been most controversial in Major League Baseball. Fans were riveted in 1998 by the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. MLB TV viewership soared [14] as fans watched these sluggers surpass Roger Marris’ single season home run record, and again when Barry Bonds broke McGuire's record a few years later. Yet the glory accrued by these home run kings was later tainted by accusations of steroid abuse. Fellow players, fans, and officials discredited their achievements [15], signifying a prominent change in society’s opinion of steroids.

Why Steroids Failed[edit]

Anabolic steroids started as a medical technology that was perceived to have a positive influence on athletic performances and sporting entertainment. However, a distinct change of opinion occurred when society realized that steroids were ruining the sacredness of sports. Fans felt betrayed and cheated. How could they support the achievements of steroid-abusing athletes, who belittled achievements by athletes unaided by chemical enhancements? Most fans became critical of the shortcuts these athletes took to succeed, devaluing its inherent entertainment. Society showed through its backlash to steroids that it cherished pure achievement over fake accomplishments. It was at this time the asterisk became a symbol of the steroid era – a symbol of the conditional, the undeserved, and the unreal. It showed that sporting accomplishments achieved with steroids had no place in sports history, and that the implementation of this medical technology was unsuccessful.

The Success and Controversy of Fantasy Sports[edit]


Fantasy sports allow everyday people to be team owners, drafting and managing their rosters while accumulating points based on players’ actual performance. A multibillion dollar industry [16], the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates 35 million adults play in the United States alone [17].

The growth of fantasy sports has paralleled that of the Internet. Online media outlets like Yahoo! Sports and are among the largest free providers. Internet accessing mobile smart phones have increased avenues for playing. Even social networking sites like Twitter are getting involved through the launch of sites like STAT.US. The service includes a “Fantasy Tracker” that sends fantasy owners live stats and updates regarding their players via Tweets [18].

Fantasy Sports in Society[edit]

Fantasy sports are largely protected under the law. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 exempts fantasy sports on the premise that they are based on skill, not chance [19]. Other court decisions have allowed the use of real-time wireless statistical distribution [20] and upheld fantasy providers’ right to athletes’ biographical information [21].

Fantasy sports have had pronounced effects on American fan culture. Fans are more likely to watch sports on television and attend games once becoming fantasy owners [22]. Fantasy sports have also connected Americans to international sports. English Premiere League soccer league and the Olympics, for instance, have fantasy leagues available to Americans. Socially, fantasy sports promote camaraderie via competitive, yet friendly, rivalries between league owners. The mainstream hit television comedy series, The League, demonstrates this phenomenon, encapsulating the lives of six friends engaged in an intensely competitive fantasy football league [23]. Fantasy sports have even transcended into the American workplace. Michael Henby’s informational book, Fantasy Kick, illustrates his theories and testimonies that fantasy sports elevate networking abilities and enhance career opportunities [24].

Emerging Controversy[edit]

Fantasy sports have also been marked by controversy. Addiction to fantasy sports have led to the formation of social groups such as Women Against Fantasy Sports (WAFS), a website for women to bond over their loved ones' obsessions with fantasy sports [25].

A 2008 ESPN article featured the conflicting perspectives of several NFL athletes on fantasy football. Some players appreciated the ability of fantasy sports to bring athletes and fans together. Others, like former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer think fantasy football has “ruined the game,” encouraging fans to root for fantasy rather than hometown rosters. Fantasy sports may even affect athletes' on field performance due to pressure from fantasy owners via letters and personal encounters. For Ladanian Tomlinson, this pressure can be motivating, explaining top fantasy draft picks “take pride and want to uphold that honor that someone has drafted you that high [26]." In 2007, even inducted athletes with high fantasy value into the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame, a further testament to the incentive fantasy sports provide athletes [27]. The question remains, do fantasy sports tarnish the purity of the game? Several professional athletes, like Cato June and Chris Cooley, admit to playing fantasy sports. Does this, even subconsciously, affect an athlete’s performance [26]? Questions like these will continue to be asked as fantasy sports gain widespread popularity and become engrained in our culture.

Video Replay Technology[edit]

Video replay technology is changing the role of the official in sports. The ideal official has integrity, consistency, authority, and fairness. However, this is not always the case. Officials make mistakes. Due to the difficulties in making calls, officials are now turning to video replay technology. Officials are integrating video replay technology in sports. The level of implementation varies across sports through rule complexity, tradition, and perceived level of fairness.


In 2014, the MLB approved video replay technology. All replays are reviewed in the Replay Operations Center. During review, a technician gathers all angles of the play for an umpire to make the official call [28].

Success of Video Replays[edit]

There were 1,130 challenges in 2014. 529 challenges, 47%, were overturned [29] and only 24% confirmed the officials call. Not all calls can be challenged, such as balls and strikes. The following is a list of acceptable reviewable plays:

  • Home run
  • Ground rule double
  • Fan interference
  • Stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball)
  • Force play (except the fielder's touching of second base on a double play)
  • Tag play (including steals and pickoffs)
  • Fair/foul in outfield only
  • Trap play in outfield only
  • Batter hit by pitch
  • Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out)
  • Touching a base (requires appeal)
  • Passing runners
  • Record keeping (Ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions) [30]

The role of the official is becoming more dependent on video replay technology to get the call correct as seen with the 47% overturn rate.

Difficulties with Implementation[edit]

Not all calls are clear and decisive. The rule book wording does not call the play “out” or “safe”. Instead, the call is “overturned”, “stands”, or “confirmed”. All calls depend on the presence of “sufficient” evidence. This vagueness causes controversy in the MLB about defining sufficient evidence.

"I'd like someone to explain to me what sufficient and insufficient evidence is, because last year we had a pretty good idea what that was, and I can't tell you what it is this year. I really can't" [31] ~ Brad Ausmus

Brad Ausmus, like other managers, does not know what sufficient evidence is. Video replay is aiding umpires in making the right call, but baseball’s complexity is limiting its implementation.

Advertising during Video Reviews[edit]

Critics of video replay raise concerns about the length of time added “If we expand replay, where will it stop? Eventually, every play at first will be replayed, and the game, which often takes too long already, will take even longer" [32]. The MLB may not care about the extra time. They partnered with Samsung to place corporate logos during these replays [33]. Also, officials now have Samsung logos on their uniform which introduces a new function of the official. According to Business Insider, “an umpire appeared to notice on the stadium's screen that the replay assistant wasn't visible to the fans at the game or the audience watching on television. He then moved the assistant to a spot where the Samsung logo was visible.” The goal of video replay is getting more calls right on the field, but there is a hidden goal of the MLB to increase revenue through ad sponsorship. The MLB has adjusted the official to include video replay, while also increasing its revenues. �



In professional tennis, the officiators call every ball in or out. If the ball hits the line at all, it is in play. In these matches, 10 line umpires, and 1 chair umpire are on the court. The ten line umpires are each responsible for monitoring one line. The chair umpire oversees all lines, calls lets, and announces the score. Balls are traveling over 160 miles per hour with differing spins which makes the umpire’s call difficult[34].

Technology in Line Calls[edit]

The first technology introduced was the Electroline. Debuting in the Men’s World Championship in 1974, the Electroline consisted of metallic tape pressure sensors that detected where the ball landed. Though the system received good reviews and a patent, the Electroline was not used in another match[35].

The next major technology introduced was the Cyclops. The Cyclops featured sets of infared beams in front and behind the service line. If both beams were tripped, the system would beep to signify the ball was out. Cyclops only detected serves and was deactivated for the rest of the point. Wimbledon was the first grand slam to adopt the technology in 1980, followed by the US and Australian Opens in 1981. Though the Cyclops was precise, it was only “used to complement, not replace, people. The line umpire has the final call” [36].

Hawk-Eye is the newest technology and consists of up to ten cameras pinpointing the balls’ trajectory and contact. Hawk-Eye has a 3.6 mm accuracy, the equivalent of the tennis ball fuzz [37]. Hawk-Eye replaced Cyclops for the 2007-2008 grand slam tournaments, except the French Open.

Need for Technology and Change[edit]

A poor call not only affects the current point, but also match momentum, and player’s loss of composure leading to fines. The most famous example over a call was John McEnroe in the 1981 Wimbledon. In the first round, he yelled at the chair umpire, “You cannot be serious, man. That ball was on the line…Everyone, in this whole stadium, knows it’s in, and you call out? You all guys are the absolute piss of the world” [38]. Other examples include Andy Roddick in the 2001 US Open, where an incorrect call made him lose his composure and then the match, and Andrea Petkovic, who in the 2015 Dubai Championship, reacted to a poor call by throwing her racquet at the official[39] [40].

Limitations of Technology[edit]

While Hawk-Eye has proven its accuracy, its use is limited. All replays are up to the chair umpire's discretion. Players are only allowed 3 challenges per set. In the 2013 Wimbledon final, Novak Djokavic ran out of challenges in his ultimate loss to Andy Murray[41]. Players have roughly 20 seconds to issue a challenge, and consulting others is discouraged. Only six of the nineteen courts have access to review in 2015[42]. The French Open refuses to implement the technology, because they believe clay courts leave sufficient marks. Many smaller tournaments do not have the technology either.

International Tennis Federation Role of Official[edit]

According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), “The Chair Umpire is much more than just the person who sits in a high chair and announces the score. They are the guardians of the Rules of Tennis and enforce them to ensure a match is played in a spirit of fair play” [43]. The ITF believes that the role of the official is more than just calling balls out. While they believe the technology perfects calls, the ITF thinks the official is still an integral part of the game. Out of the 858 challenges at Wimbledon, only 229 (27%) have been overturned, proving official’s accuracy[44]. Being an official is an honorable position, requiring 8-10 years of schooling across 3 different schools in 3 different countries and progressing through 5 levels of badges[45]. Only 26 officials currently maintain the gold badge, the highest level [46]. The tennis official continues to have a role due to tradition and their larger responsibilities.

Entertainment Value[edit]

Tennis is not a raucous spectator sport and fans are upheld to a high level of etiquette. Video replays may bring a new level of excitement. In a challenge, there is a brief break from the match tension, fans clap as they watch the replay and emotionally react. The challenge gets the crowd involved. Replay technology captivates spectators, unlike prior matches[47].


Background of Video Replay in Swimming[edit]

FINA, the international governing body of swimming, determined video replay can not disqualify athletes. The high costs of implementing underwater cameras may have influenced this ruling. However, USA Swimming, the US governing body, adopted video replay officially in 2008[48]. The underwater cameras used in USA Swimming competitions could not be used to directly disqualify swimmers, but rather review official’s calls. An official on the pool deck determines whether a swimmer broke a rule, such as a false start or illegal stroke motion, then other officials in a video control room review whether the disqualification is valid. The cameras cannot disqualify a swimmer unless an official on the pool deck saw a violation.

Perception of Fairness[edit]

The fact that underwater video replay can only be issued to confirm a call exemplifies the perception of fairness. Video replaying is used in an “innocent until proven guilty” mindset. The video replay can rescue a swimmer from an unfair disqualification but cannot be used to disqualify a swimmer for a rule violation that the official could not see with his or her eyes. This shows that the false positive call, or unjust disqualification, is worse than a false negative, a missed call. In other words, people's’ view of a swimmer getting away with a violation as benign, whereas an unjust disqualification is egregious.

2008 Olympics Men’s 100 Meter Butterfly Final[edit]

The 2008 Olympics Men’s 100 Meter Butterfly Final is one of the most controversial finishes in Olympic history. On his way to his famous eight gold medal haul, Michael Phelps and rival, Milorad Cavic of Serbia appeared to touch at the same time. The Omega touchpad, however, displayed Phelps’ time as .01 seconds faster. The finish was then reviewed by video replay, showing both swimmers may have touched the wall at the same time. Many believe the video shows Cavic touching the wall first. However, Cavic had a long, gliding finish and Phelps had a strong, choppy finish, which registered the touchpad first. The rules of swimming declare the touchpad as the authority, and since it did not malfunction, Michael Phelps’ win could not be overturned. Mark Spitz, who won seven Olympic golds, the former record for most gold medals in a single games, said “I don’t believe he won the race but he’s still the greatest swimmer in the world, with or without that medal.”[49]


As the above cases illustrated, technology can improve athletes' performances, increase safety and fairness, and enhance fan experience. Hockey masks prevail because the painted designs provided a new avenue for tradition without compromising the integrity of the game. Performance enhancing drugs harm sports, creating an environment of distrust that tarnish the reputations of athletes and their sports. Fantasy sports develop a following, but not without controversy. Complexity of rules, sporting tradition, perception of fairness, and costs all affect how video replay is implemented in sports, but even with perfect and instant technology, the official will still play a role.


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