Gil Jones: How Technology Has Affected Sports

When you think about sports — like the recent NBA Finals that the Toronto Raptors won in 6 games — you think about athletes training, competing hard, and even having fun while they’re doing it. But if you think about it, there’s a lot technology in the world of sports — some in the foreground, and some in the background. From technology such as data analytics to improve performance, to technology that limits injuries, to the Internet where you can connect with your favorite athletes, there are many ways in which technology has changed how sports are played and experienced.

Gil Jones, one of the top players in Phoenix High School history, as well as ex-European basketball pro, is here today to cover a few examples of how technology has changed, and continues to change, the world of sport — and how it has affected us, the consumer of the highest levels of competition.

Social Media and The Internet

For the consumer, social media makes it easier for sports fans to follow their favorite teams, games, and even athletes. You can now get updates delivered straight to your phone, which means that you can be at work, in a meeting, or running errands and still stay on top of your favorite team’s progress in real time. I’m a huge Cubs fan and it’s crazy that shortstop Javy Baez can hit a walk off homerun at 8:30 PM in Chicago (3:30 here in Maui) and at 8:31 CDT my phone lights up not only telling me about it but also showing me the highlight. Not only that but later that night Javy jumps on Instagram and Twitter to let his fans know how he felt when he hit the dinger! In the 90’s and early 2000’s I used to have to rush home at a certain time to catch ESPN’s SportsCenter for all the news and highlights, but now all the news and highlights come to me. In a few short years the internet and social media have profoundly changed the distribution platforms of sports. So, there goes my need to read the sports page tomorrow morning. You remember what the sports page is, right? Maybe not. Most Millennials have never seen one as that distribution method is pretty much a dinosaur compared to modern ways we can consume the competitive landscape.

But there’s a catch for the athlete, too.

When Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders this offseason, his former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was quick to give at least part of the reason for the trade. Ben has been in the league for many years and says he’s seen a shift in his teammates’ behavior starting when social media became popular. Ben says Antonio was affected in one way that was detrimental to the values of the Steeler organization. Instead of heading to the locker room after practice and hanging with the guys, many athletes including Antonio go to their lockers and grab their phones to see what people are saying about them. Hubris increases, healthy community among the players decreases, and it’s a bigger fight to play as a team rather than individually. Antonio got caught up in the fan frenzy that social media allows on levels never known before — and in the process he thought he individually was above the team game. And that’s not even broaching the subject of Fantasy Football, where players feel the need to pad their stats for the consumer involved who has picked them for their team in a very intense league oftentimes resulting in a lot of money for who wins.

Whether you like it or not, social media and the Internet have brought deeper engagement and broader connection of sports to our daily lives, affecting both the consumer and the athlete in very emotional, tangible ways.

Injury Prevention and Recovery

It’s impossible to avoid injuries in sport, like strains, sprains, and tears. Though athletes are aware of the risk of getting injured is high, it’s never intentional. Thanks to emerging technologies, team physicians can help athletes recover faster than ever before. If a player tears an ACL mid-game, specialized robotics help to determine the strength of the muscle and predict how long it will take to heal.

Here’s how this works: Kevin Durant goes down with what looks like a calf or achilles injury during a Friday night playoff game in Toronto. Coaches and fans are drooling for knowledge on exactly what happened, what part of his body is injured, and what the prognosis is for his recovery. X-Rays are taken in the locker room as Kevin is surrounded by his agent and a host of doctors hired by him individually as well as the team’s physicians. He’s booted up and in the morning flies to New York where he gets an MRI and by that afternoon we all find out when we get a smartphone alert that Kevin ruptured his achilles as he planted his right foot awkwardly and he’ll be out a projected 9–12 months. Then the talking heads go on for days and weeks talking about how this will affect Kevin’s offseason free agency. Again, we’re alerted to this breaking news via our lit-up smartphones.

And the beat goes on.

I call my 82-year-old Dad in Prescott, AZ and I give him all the news and he’s wondering how I got it so fast. He then mumbles under his breath something about his disdain for how different the distribution methods are from when he was a kid. It’s very funny. And all so true. Change is here to stay.

Instant Replay Technology (IRT)

A computer technology first used for tracking the trajectory of a cricket ball, IRT is now used in all types of sports including tennis, football, baseball, and soccer.

IRT ensures that every game can be umpired more accurately as it can trace a ball to within 3.6 millimeters which helps referees making difficult calls — like if that was really a home run or a foul ball or who touched the ball last before it went out of bounds.

There are a lot of surprising issues with IRT. One is that in a short attention span culture it makes the game longer as it frequently stops play. So with precision comes a wait. IRT also takes a lot of the human element out of the game which gives purists reason for alarm. Right this minute executives in charge of Major League Baseball are gathering to talk about using Artificial Intelligence (AI) for a more precise strike zone, replacing umpires.

Already the debates are flying.

“Get Your Tickets!…” WHERE?

The hassle of ticket buying and selling is a thing of the past. Today, sports fans can purchase, trade or sell their tickets… you guessed it — online. Stub Hub, Seat Geek and others make it easy. Another perk of online purchasing for the buyer is rather than needing to rely on scalpers, fans can buy cheaper tickets at the last minute on the Internet.

This has spiked growth across e-commerce, with companies like Facebook offering fans the possibility of buying tickets through their platform rather than ticketing websites. Last-minute decisions to see a game have now become a reasonable possibility.

The other day my 22-year-old son Brody wanted to see a Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field in Denver, CO. It was last minute. He invited 4 people at 5:00 PM and told them they had to get back to him by 5:30 for a 6:10 start time. Only one could make it so Brody grabbed his smart phone, went to MLB.com, and grabbed two tickets for the Rockpile — bleacher seats for the rowdy types. And off he went and had a great time.

I don’t remember that option when I was growing up.

The Tools of The Competitive Trades

Technology has revolutionized how equipment is designed and manufactured. Everything from football helmets to golf clubs to elite uniforms, equipment is more advanced and more high functioning than ever.

Get this: golf club technology has advanced so much in the past two decades that PGA has had to renovate the length of their courses in order to take these changes into account. The top professional golfers can average over 325 yards per drive yards a drive where 35 years ago the average drive was 250 yards.

Somehow, I think Jack Nicklaus wishes he were born in 1975 instead of 1940.

Virtual Reality is another way technology has changed the game. You can practice anytime, anywhere with better results once you hit the playing field. This is an area that will only be enhanced over time.

Perhaps one of the most interesting advances are smart helmets which sense and disperse force, decreasing the chances of getting a concussion and later CTE, a devastating result of concussions often resulting in dementia and death. Smart helmets can also notify coaches precisely when a player hits their head which helps the coaches and doctors to intervene accordingly. This is a game changer for the future health of athletes.

That’s a lot of technological change in a very short amount of time. Who knows what the future holds, but Gil Jones is sure that technology will continue to have a profound impact on the world of sports.

Gil received his Business Degree from Bradley University and his Masters from Western Seminary. He is an entrepreneur who started and grew the two largest churches in Colorado history. He is currently a speaker, teacher, and author around the topics of truth, trauma, and spiritual consciousness. Gil is a father of 4 and lives in Maui with his wife Beth and their two adorable Rottweilers Ulani and Nani. You can see more of his work at gil-jones.com and reach him at info@gil-jones.com.

Gil is a former top state tennis and saxophonist in Arizona. He graduated Bradley University with a Business degree. He is currently a freelance writer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store