An interesting look into the way forward for sports activities
From Martin Rogers
FOX sports columnist
Maybe 43-year-old Tom Brady, who still mixes it up at the highest level, isn’t an outlier after all.
Because sport gets old. And they are getting older.
The modern truth, of course, tells us that Brady is indeed an extreme rarity, and at an age when most quarterbacks have long since put the game book in the fridge, can conjure up the productivity of a Super Bowl.
Yet it cannot always be. As time goes by and medical science and athletic perception change, it is entirely possible that future generations will think of his latest Tampa Bay masterpiece with a slightly less sense of wonder.
“Quarterbacks are definitely getting older and … the average age is really going to go up,” said Josh McHugh, editor-in-chief of the future of the sport. “People will be able to turn back the clock on their body tissues. There is this new biotechnology of telomere maintenance …”
Back to that in a moment.
The Future of Sport was a 2016 report that did a remarkable study of how emerging technologies and advancement trends will affect the way athletics will be played, judged, consumed and enjoyed in the decades to come.
Five years later, it’s still extremely entertaining read and in some ways the coolest kind of science fiction – both futuristic and fantastically resourceful, with each prediction based on solid science and countless interviews with academics and futurists.
We’re not going to dig deep into the scientific weeds here, but in short, the way science advances rapidly to promote human health will have a profound impact on what athletes and beyond Consider senses possible.
Okay, so about these telomeres. For laypeople, it’s caps at the end of your chromosomes that eventually start to fray. This is when the aging process really begins. Medical experts now believe that it is possible to delay and even reverse the process, which offers a potential game changer for humanity, let alone the games we love.
Stem cell developments have left the scientific community breathless for its wide variety of uses, with practical athletic use being in treating joint problems that cause so much discomfort and difficulty in older athletes.
“The reason you stop playing and get excited about getting out is because you’re in a lot more pain,” McHugh told me on a Zoom call last week. “Your joints become inflamed more easily. The stem cell therapies bring in fresh cells and allow you to remove the old ones faster.”
Surgical advances have and are expected to continue to change the face of ACL and MCL injuries for so long, potential career ends. Meanwhile, food technology and the concept of what we eat to heal the body seemed to be helping Brady and is a model that is likely to be copied.
The downside is how much more information is available to younger athletes through visual aids and the availability of game material, as well as through the increasing use of virtual reality training.
“Back then we thought it might be a race,” added McHugh. “That you get a rookie with the experience of a 35-year-old and a 45-year-old with the body of a 25-year-old.”
However, McHugh believes the odds are leaning towards classic cars, especially in sports (or positions like QB) where the mental aspect is high. He expects more top performers “into the years of LeBron (James) and Serena (Williams)”.
Tennis is a telling example. In 1990, half of the top ten women in the world were teenagers. At the time the report was commissioned, there were only three teenagers in the top 100.
Reproductive technology has also given women more opportunities to focus on their careers and have children later, creating a larger window of competition.
Aside from its direct impact on athletes, the report had some seriously cool ideas. It envisioned spring-loaded carbon fiber basketball floors to reduce injury and increase players’ vertical jump. Augmented Reality for life-size 3D repetitions. And stadiums with extended fan zones for up to 250,000 spectators with less space required due to the space required by self-driving, self-parking vehicles.
Even then, the most intriguing aspect of what exercise could be like is how long careers shape existing records and how we handle them.
Seven Super Bowl titles are always going to be a massive number, but would it seem out of reach if a 25 year QB career became the standard?
What would Michael Jordan’s six NBA titles or Wilt Chamberlain’s stunning stats look like when an NBA career of 20 years and more becomes the norm? Or home runs and records when baseball players are still out there and swing their bats for around 50 years?
Also, how much harder does it get to get into a big league when fewer players retire after each season?
There are many questions. For the real answers, we have to wait for the future to come.
McHugh has never stopped thinking about what’s next for the sport, even as he works on other projects like the future of medicine and an upcoming look at youth sport that he hopes will become more egalitarian over time.
He sees pickleball becoming a big thing and the sport of choice for millions of members of an still mobile, aging population, and he takes pride in the things they got right, like the sport’s explosive growth and the rise in the population Player activism and its ability to influence public opinion.
There was also a prediction that McHugh’s wishes had proven completely wrong. “We predicted a global pandemic,” he said. The report believed that an outbreak was inevitable due to the volume of global travel and predicted that pathogen checkpoints would need to be implemented. “I’m not happy about that,” added McHugh.
This part is mind blowing, but looking into the sports stars is part of what makes the games we enjoy special. We’ll continue to wonder about stadiums that look like they came from a movie, technologies that bring sport closer to video games, and video games that look more like real sports.
And who knows, maybe a 52-year-old nine-ring quarterback who still feels and looks 30 years old.
Sport never really gets old. But they are getting older.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Here you can subscribe to the newsletter.
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