Science & Technology That Revolutionized Sports

Like any human endeavor, sports evolve over time. Science and technology fuel these changes, improving athletic equipment design, training, and the value of information gleaned from player statistics. From everyday recreational activities to the highest levels of competitive play, these innovations were real game-changers for sports. These breakthroughs, in my eyes, have had the biggest impact.

Baseball –  Tommy John Surgery (1974)


Dr. Frank Jobe and Tommy John in trainer’s room at Dodger Stadium. [Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers]

Thousands of pitchers who play Major League Baseball have undergone the same elbow reconstruction surgery. First performed in 1974 by the orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, the surgery was only an experiment when Dr. Jobe first tried it on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John. Today, the surgery is routine. Although arthroscopy has revolutionized the way surgeons approach orthopedics, Tommy John surgery hasn’t changed much (probably because Jobe designed the operation to be minimally invasive). Who knows? Pitchers such as Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, and many others might have faded into oblivion, were it not for Dr. Jobe.

Football – Helmet Audio (1994)

Patent drawing for football helmet radio


Though the Cleveland Browns experimented with the idea of placing homemade radio receivers inside the helmet of quarterback George Ratterman in 1956, it wasn’t until 1994 that the NFL first allowed quarterbacks to use built-in radios inside their helmets to communicate with football coaches on the sidelines.

Tennis – Composite Tennis Rackets (1968)

1970s ad for Wilson's T2000 tennis racket

1970s ad for Wilson’s T2000 tennis racket

Until the 1970s, tennis rackets were only fashioned out of wood. Although the functionality of wooden rackets improved with advancements in laminating technology (using thin layers of wood glued together) and in stringing methods, the rackets were still relatively heavy and the surface area of racket heads remained small. Compared to modern rackets used today, even the best-made wood rackets were unwieldy and lacking in power. Then, in 1968, Wilson introduced its T2000, the first steel racket on the market. The popularity of the T2000 racket skyrocketed after Jimmy Connors adopted it as his own.

Basketball – Breakaway Rims (1976)

That the NBA needed a new kind of basketball hoop became more and more obvious as slam-dunking became increasingly popular during the 1970s. If dunks didn’t damage the hoop completely, they shattered the backboard, putting the safety of players and spectators at risk. Not to mention that NBA games were often delayed for hours while the equipment was replaced. With a hunch that technology to build a better hoop must exist, Randy Albrecht, an assistant college basketball coach, approached his uncle Arthur Ehrat, a grain elevator worker, to explore the idea. Ehrat added a hinge and a spring from a John Deere cultivator to a basketball hoop rim. With the new setup, the iron basketball rim could bend–and immediately snap back into place–under pressure.

Do You Know How to Properly Recover from a Concussion?

John Martinez Pavliga/Flickr Creative Commons

John Martinez Pavliga/Flickr Creative Commons

The Center for Disease Control estimates that between 1.6 and 3.8 million concussions occur each year in American sports. Furthermore, 30 percent of these concussions will occur to athletes between 5 and 19 years old. The CDC lists football, ice hockey, wrestling, girls soccer, boys soccer and girls basketball as the American sports most likely to produce concussions.

For those unaware, a concussion disrupts your brain’s ability to operate at full capacity. Essentially, after a blow to the head a victim’s head suffers from a supply-and-demand energy imbalance. Until proper blood flow returns, the brain fails to fully recover. While most individuals recover in a week or two, others can take weeks or months.

If you notice an athlete displaying poor coordination, looking “out of it” or having trouble retaining information, these are just a few signs they may need to undergo concussion testing protocols.

If it is determined that you or your athlete have a concussion, avoid activities that can further strain the imbalanced supply-and-demand in the brain. These activities include watching television or other time consuming screens, reading, writing, music and bright lighting. While seemingly harmless, these can all cause strain on the brain–potentially lengthening the recovery process.

Furthermore, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHoA) Concussion Program suggests a recovery plan that eases the individual back into daily life. A “recovery plan” can include shorter school days, modified coursework/tests and avoiding noisy areas that cause strain until the athlete is deemed fully recovered. Additionally the CHoA recommends physical rest that comprises a seven-step program that eases an athlete into their usual regimen. By implementing the seven-step program, all parties can ensure that the athlete is symptom free, back to their usual routine comfortably and cleared to play at full strength.

For a detailed look at concussions and their treatment, visit