Lentis/Implementation of Technology in Sports: Historical Successes and Failures, and Modern Discussion

< Lentis

Factors at the interface of society and technology influence technological advancements in sports. Three separate technologies, hockey goalie masks, performance-enhancing drugs, and fantasy sports, generated controversies when first introduced. Yet, one became a success while another failed entirely. The success of the third has yet to be determined. This chapter will examine the causes for success or failure to generalize a lesson about technology in sports.

The Evolution of Hockey MasksEdit

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 IntroductionsEdit

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 PlanteEdit

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 TodayEdit

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 DrugsEdit

Early HistoryEdit

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 ImplementationEdit

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 FailedEdit

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 SportsEdit


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 ESPN.com 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 SocietyEdit

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 ControversyEdit

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, ESPN.com 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 TechnologyEdit


Video replay technology is changing the role of the official in sports. The ideal official is recognized as one with qualities such as: integrity, consistency, authority, and fairness. However, in reality, this is not always the case. Officials make mistakes. One specific example of this is during the Packers Vs. Seahawks football game on September 24th 2012. A hail mary pass to the end zone by quarterback Russel Wilson had officials making different calls on the play. "It seemed like at first, from my vantage point, the referee in the back, I saw him waving his arms over his head which means he was calling touchback," Aaron Rodgers said. "No idea how the other guy said touchdown to Golden Tate on the replay" (Burke, 2012). Due to the difficulties in making the correct call initially on each and every play, officials are now turning to video replay technology to assist them in correcting bad calls. Officials in sports are now changing to become one with video replay technology. The following cases with showcase very different sports and how the official in each sport has changed due to the same technology.





As the above cases illustrated, technology can improve athletes' performances, increase safety, and enhance fan experience. The success (or failure) of newly introduced technologies have largely been determined by their impact on the purity of the game. Hockey masks prevailed because the painted designs provided a new avenue for tradition without compromising the integrity of the game. On the other hand, performance enhancing drugs failed completely because they caused an environment of distrust that tarnished the reputations of athletes and some sports. Fantasy sports have developed a following, but not without controversy. These concerns will govern the future success of this cultural and technological phenomena.


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  3. a b c Hynes, Jim, Gary Smith. Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask. 2008
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  14. Ham, E. Broadcasting Baseball: A History of the National Pastime on Radio and Television. 2011
  15. The Mitchell Report. http://files.mlb.com/mitchrpt.pdf
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  17. http://www.fsta.org/
  18. 30 November 2011. http://www.fsta.org/blog/fsta-press-release
  19. Rose, Nelson. Implementation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. 2008. http://www.gamblingandthelaw.com/articles/255-implementation-of-the-unlawful-internet-gambling-enforcement-act.html
  20. NBA v. Motorola and STATS, Inc. http://legal.web.aol.com/decisions/dldecen/nba.html
  21. Voris, Bob V. and St. Onge, Jeff. Fantasy Sports Win Right to Player Names, Statistics. 16 October 2007. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aVMAY0beLSoA&refer=home
  22. CDM Legal Victory in Appeals Court Ensures Continued Fantasy Sports Growth. 17 October 2007. http://fsta.org/news/pressreleases/CBCvsMLBAM.doc?PHPSESSID=glao8etoobku1pu8q98hln9262
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