Technology Meets Gridiron

Technology Meets Gridiron


NFLAs the National Football League has evolved so has the technology that is often associated with it, much of which hasn’t come about until the last two or three decades of the NFL’s existence. The NFL, established in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, has been augmenting the game of football with new technologies since before the earth shaking AFL-NFL Merger in 1970. With the final merger of the NFL’s first half-century came many of today’s common aspects of the game such as the players’ names on the back of the jersey, on-field game clock, and revenue sharing. Over the years the landscape of pro sports has changed both rules related as well as technologically with such innovations as games being broadcast on the radio and later television, introduction of instant replay to television and stadium spectators (but yet to be used in on field situations), and more recently games being broadcast in high definition. This all leads to the fact that the evolution of technology has positively impacted and affected the game of football (both professional and collegiate) in many aspects.

Shawne MerrimanMany people believe that as technology evolves so should the NFL and NCAA’s policies regarding its use in game as well as out of game and not just in the sense to ban all technology a la the NCAA. What so devastatingly horrible would occur were the NCAA to embrace technology in its product? From a purist football fan’s point of view: a whole hell of a lot. Purist fans believe that the game should be played the way it was intended and that doesn’t include such controversial components as instant replay, which quite a few see as taking away the validity and authority of the referees. Still others believe that the challenging and enforcing a review should not come from the head coaches or a group in a luxury box, but from the referees themselves. This might seem odd seeing as the referees make the calls and, most likely, wouldn’t want to find themselves fallible on their own decision. With some refining this has the possibility of being successful, but would, in all reality, bring an equitable amount of controversy since those making the decision would be deciding what to review and then still be making the final call. Further purist arguments that such substances as steroids and performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have the ability to ruin, or are ruining, the game and need to be more tightly controlled are correct in their thinking, but not in the manageability as well as applicable legislation by the leagues. They also may not understand the already stringent codes instituted by the NFL where every player on a roster has a urine sample tested (and are watched so there is little to no chance for them to pull some switch or trick) during training camp. Players are chosen randomly every week of the season to undergo the tests and were a player to be caught they would be served a four game suspension (with the chance to appeal); even recently a rule change was made that a player cannot earn any awards (i.e. MVP) or be chosen for the Pro Bowl after Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers made the Pro Bowl despite having served a suspension for steroids. The core of this system has been around since the mid-to-late 1980’s whereas Major League Baseball didn’t create a steroid policy until 2004. The NFL has been striving to remove steroids and PEDs from its product with relative success as there have only been a few cases yearly that players are suspended for steroid consumption. An argument could be made for the fact that the NFL may have a strict rulebook against steroid usage however they do not create much of a punishment in the eyes of some despite a player missing a fourth of the season (possibly more if it’s another offense). It could also seem as if football fans just don’t care as much about steroid use as the fans of baseball. Could it be the hallowed statistics such as career home runs that baseball holds in such high regards? But doesn’t the NFL also hold statistics of this type in the same esteem? To some, yes, to others, no.

Allen Barra of the Wall Street Journal ruminates on this exact situation, saying that “…baseball fans take stats very seriously and thus are spurred to action when performance-enhancing drugs taint the record books [whereas] football fans are much less concerned about steroids and other such substances given that football has no identifiable statistical benchmarks such as Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs or Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak” (Barra/a); it’s also notable that out of twenty-two NFL starters only so many can actually accumulate statistics with offensive lineman gaining basically nothing. Obviously, steroids in any sport are a negative as it imbalances the playing field and could, plausibly, push otherwise clean players to begin the usage of PEDs to improve themselves. This cycle can only be seen as detrimental to players especially when considering that high school and college players have been found to have been using steroids/PEDs; with all of the negative affects of these medicines on such young players it shines a whole new light upon the problem.

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