Not so Perfect: How Nostalgia and Technology Has Changed Sport

Ryan Vooris@ryanvoorisContributor IIIApril 11, 2011

Tiger Woods Expresses Disappoinment After An Errant Tie-Shot: Many have critized Woods for his on-course outbursts of profanity.
Tiger Woods Expresses Disappoinment After An Errant Tie-Shot: Many have critized Woods for his on-course outbursts of profanity.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This morning on ESPN radio, Colin Cowherd discussed Tiger Wood's continued use of profanity at yesterday's Masters Tournament.  Cowherd and some of his callers expressed disappointment at Tiger's lack of self-control. 

A week earlier, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, along with guest Chuck Klosterman, recorded an episode of Simmons' podcast in which they recapped the NCAA tournament. They also tried to determine what the golden age of college basketball was, eventually deciding on the 1970s and the early 80s.

These two events demonstrate a drastic change and a difficult misconception in how we view sports in today’s world. 

In the case of Tiger Woods’ cursing being carried into homes across America, it is important to remember that this occurs because of the technology of today's television broadcasts.  Often called "Super Microphones," these large, satellite-dish-looking mics are ubiquitous on the sidelines of sporting events.  They provide sounds in broadcasts that prior generations never experienced.

Because of these microphones, we hear Tiger (and others) curse.  Every shot of Woods is seen on television when he's in competition at a golf tournament.  As a result of the advancements in technology and the amount of coverage he receives, we are more aware of his verbal outbursts. 

When Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmer stalked the links at Augusta, their cursing was not broadcast across the nation, because the technology to do so did not exist.  There is little different today with Tiger's profanity than with what likely occurred in years past with other golfers.  What has changed, however, is the technology; thus, our perception of the players has also changed.  We need to keep things in perspective.  

This brings up a larger issue, demonstrated by Bill Simmons' search for the "Golden Era" of college basketball. 

There is no simpler truth in sports then the fact that we view the past through rose-colored glasses.  We idolize it.  We forget its faults.  Because today's game is in front of us and covered in an unending 24-hour new cycle, we are well aware of its shortcomings and faults.  Once again, technology plays a part here.

Past generations did not experience the media saturation of today.  Players have always engaged in cheating and questionable moral conduct.  There were always major problems in every sport. Because they weren't covered to the extent they are today, we forget them—or simply aren't aware of them.  This creates a nostalgic effect for bygone eras seen as purer or "golden." No such times ever really existed.  We want them to exist; we think they existed, because our lack of our perception of them.

We can examine any sport and find this to be true.  Babe Ruth was a scoundrel, a drunk and a womanizer.  He had a child out of wedlock and then had his wife claim the child was hers and raise it as such.  This could never happen today. 

We would know right away what the Babe was up too.  It would be front page news.  He would be lampooned as a fool and derided as a terrible role model for America's youth. 

Of course, in the 1920s, the exact opposite of all of this was true.  There was not enough media to discover all these things (and to some extent the media were interested in an athlete's prevent lives).  The Babe was a hero, an icon and the most popular man in the country.  This would never happen today. 

Examine any "pure” era of sport and you'll find this. 

For decades, the NFL was plagued by terrible life-threatening injuries.  Advancements in safety and equipment have drastically changed this.  College basketball was a cesspool of recruiting violations by coaches who ignored the NCAA because they knew nobody would discover what they were up too or dare to challenge them. 

The Olympics barred professionals for nearly a century, creating the dichotomy of presenting itself as determining the best athletes in the world without allowing the best athletes in the world to compete. 

It is important to remember how the increase in media coverage has changed our perception of sports by presenting current events in a way past generations never experienced. 

This changes our perception of present-day sports in relation to our perception of the sports of yesteryear.  We would be wise to remember this by keeping our experiences in context.  By doing so, we enrich our experiences of the games we love and begin to see them as they truly are.