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Does Nike’s New Running Shoe Create an Unfair Advantage?

Hey there. Remember me?

First and foremost, please join me in thanking Alex, Mike, and Phil for keeping the Uni Watch world spinning while I was away on vacation. They did a great job, and I’m lucky — check that, we’re all lucky — to have such a great team on board here. Thanks, guys.

My trip, a semi-frantic ramble through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, was a good one. Many of you have asked if I’ll be posting a travelogue about it, and the answer is yes, but not today. Maybe tomorrow, but more likely next week. (As an aside, I really appreciate that so many of you enjoy the travelogues — thank you! I enjoy doing them, so it’s a win-win.)

Meanwhile: Yesterday’s New York Times had a faaaascinating article about an interesting topic: Does Nike’s latest running shoe (shown at right), which includes a contoured inner-sole plate that supposedly acts almost like a spring, constitute an unfair advantage for the runners who wear it?

The article, which I strongly recommend reading in its entirety, functions on two levels. On the surface, it’s about international track and field regulations, shoe design, and — insert eye-roll here — footwear marketing. (Did you know Nike and Adidas are both attempting to create a shoe that will result in the first sub-two-hour marathon time?)

But the bigger issue, which the article also addresses, is this: What constitutes an “unfair advantage” in sports, and how do advances in equipment — like modern running shoes — play into that? We always hear about how “performance-enhancing” factors are verboten, whether they’re steroids or a high-tech swimsuit, but isn’t the whole history of sports basically a never-ending quest to enhance performance?

On some level, of course, almost all top-level athletes have some sort of ”¨”unfair” genetic advantage. That’s how they got to be top-level athletes in the first place. They have a greater-than-average lung capacity, or better eyesight, or a better ability to convert oxygen into energy, or better fast-twitch muscles, or they’re seven feet tall, or whatever. Almost by definition, none of them are normal humans. If they were normal, they wouldn’t be top-level athletes.

And when it comes to performance enhancement, where do you draw the line? Steroids are off-limits, but modern nutrition and weight-training are okay; blood doping is off-limits, but high-altitude training is okay; and so on. It seems like the general intent is to get the athlete to compete in a “natural state,” so to speak, but what constitutes natural? Ted Williams had 20/10 vision — is that better (or more natural, or more fair) than a player who achieves the same thing with LASIK surgery?

If we apply this same “natural state” thinking to the world of equipment, pretty much anything other than competing naked constitutes performance enhancement. As the Times article points out, “All [running] shoes are considered to enhance performance. Otherwise, everyone would run barefoot.” (Of course, a few world-class runners, like Abe be Bikila and Zola Budd, did run barefoot, which means they probably had unusually thick-skinned and/or shock-resistant feet, which is just another genetic advantage. Fair or unfair?)

When it comes to performance-enhancing equipment, it seems like any notion of an “unfair” advantage becomes moot, at least in terms of gaining a competitive edge, once everyone has access to the latest advances. The first ballplayer who wore batting gloves may have had an unfair advantage, but that was neutralized once everyone else followed suit. Ditto for the first tennis player to use a metal racket, the first bowler to use a urethane ball, the first golfer to use carbon fiber shafts, and so on.

So you could theoretically argue that even if Nike’s shoe violates track and field regulations, well, so what? If all the runners can wear the shoe, then they all have the same advantage, which is no advantage at all. (Yes, I realize some runners have shoe deals with other companies and wouldn’t be able to wear the Nike shoe. But if the shoe is that revolutionary, all the top runners will presumably sign with Nike soon enough.)

But then you get to the larger question of whether a certain level of enhanced performance essentially makes a mockery of the sport. That’s more or less what the FINA, the organization that governs international swimming, decided when it banned Speedo’s LZR swimsuit. World records were being broken at such an unheard-of rate that FINA felt the integrity and heritage of the sport were at stake. Or to put it another way, they felt that swimming in a LZR suit isn’t really swimming, at least not as it’s been historically defined.

It’s interesting to project that line of thought onto other sports. Simple example: As I’ve written many times, I believe the advent of sticky gloves is the most underrated NFL development of the past generation. Without those gloves, we wouldn’t see all those one-handed catches, fingertip catches, and so on. (Yes, I realize today’s receivers are also more athletic, but the gloves make a huge difference.) Anyone can wear the gloves, so they don’t provide an unfair competitive advantage, but they’ve completely changed the game, rewritten the record books, and so on. I think you could make a case that playing football with sticky gloves isn’t really football, at least not as football had been historically defined in the pre-glove era, but the NFL didn’t care about that, so the gloves stayed and Odell Beckham Jr. became Superman.

It remains to be seen whether Nike’s new shoe will have a LZR-like effect on track and field, or the shoe will be banned. In the meantime, this is all good food for thought, no? Discuss.

•  •  •  •  •

Pussy hat not included: As you’re probably aware, yesterday was International Women’s Day, and the Brazilian soccer team Cruzeiro, which plays in Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, marked the occasion in a unique uni-related way: For last night’s game against Murici, small bits of text were added next to the players’ rear jersey numbers, creating messages designed to raise awareness about the violence and other hardships that women face. The messages on the two jerseys shown above, for example — No. 11 and No. 8 — translate to “Every 11 minutes, there is a rape” and “Eight out of 10 young women are harassed.”

It’s a powerful approach (although it’d be a lot more powerful without all those jersey advertisements, sigh), so good for Cruzeiro for doing it. There’s further info, along with the translation for all of the team’s jersey messages, here.

The Swedish women’s national soccer team did something similar, replacing their NOBs with inspirational phrases from Swedish women. That story surfaced while I was away on vacation, so please forgive the redundancy if it was already covered during my absence.

(Big ups to Phil for letting me know about the Brazilian team.)

•  •  •  •  •

”¨”¨Membership update: A few new designs have been added to the membership card gallery, including Cooper Goetz’s design (shown at right). What uniform is that? It’s based on the silks worn by thoroughbred jockey Edgar Prado when he rode Barbaro to the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. A very cool request, and one of the few horse racing-based designs we’ve done.

I have three slots open in the current batch, which I’ll be sending to the printer tomorrow. So if you sign up today, you’ll get your card very quickly.

As always, you can sign up for your own custom-designed membership card here, you can see all the cards we’ve designed so far here, and you can see how we produce the cards here. My thanks for your consideration, and doubleplusthanks to card designer Scott M.X. Turner, who’s been partnering with me on this project for nearly 10 years now!

•  •  •  •  •

Signal flare: To the reader who goes by the handle Louise Brooks Fan Club, please get in touch, or at least check your Twitter messages. Thanks.

•  •  •  •  •

The Ticker
By Mike Chamernik

Baseball News: Pirates OF Austin Meadows has been wearing a faceguard on his helmet since breaking his orbital bone while playing catch last year, and he’s likely to keep wearing it (from Jerry Wolper). … The Braves’ new ballpark has mesh seats (from Matt Snyder). … CC Sabathia’s stubble beard is testing the Yankees’ strict facial hair policy. The quotes from Sabathia and Yankees manager Joe Girardi really reveal the disdain they have for the guy writing the story. … Last night, players borrowed from the Rays and Twins wore their normal uniforms in exhibition games between MLB and WBC teams (from Nick Hanson and Jason Ricles). … A pitcher on Mexico’s team didn’t have a NOB or number yesterday (from Nate Woelfel). … Liberté Chan, a Meteorologist for KTLA in Los Angeles, wore an outfit that resembles a tequila sunrise Astros jersey (from Barry Brite). … Marty Hick is a schoolteacher in St. Louis. Every year he shows off one of his collections to his class, and this year he chose hosiery. … Cubs OF Matt Szczur paints sports portraits in his spare time. He even painted Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo making the last out of the World Series. … Texas wore throwbacks last night. Here’s another look (from Casey Wieder and @atxprogress). … The Orix Buffaloes revealed two Kansai throwbacks (from @graveyardball). … The Down East Wood Ducks unveiled their uniforms (from Phil). … @GordonBombayH2A found a San Diego Chargers golf accessory with a MLB logo on it. … The LG Twins, a Korean team, uneiled their new logo and uniforms. … The Phillies are facing some interesting choices about issuing uniform numbers that had previously been worn by notable players (from Jeff Stumm).

Hockey News: Declines in sales have pushed Adidas to put the CCM Hockey brand up for sale (from John Muir). … The Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament has begun. Barry Brite found a few of his favorite program covers from over the years. You can click through this site to see every cover since 1945. Here’s more information on Terry Fogarty, the artist who has painted the covers since 1998. … Speaking of that tournament, a player on St. Cloud Cathedral wore goggles yesterday (from Tony Tengwall). … Dartmouth had horizontal stick racks behind the bench during the 1979-80 season (from Tris Wykes).

NBA News: Miami wore El Heat jerseys in a red-vs.-teal matchup against the Hornets last night (from @notthefakeian). … Another new BIG3 team has been announced: Allen Iverson will play for 3’s Company.

College Hoops News: Reader Paul R found a light blue Bluefield State jersey at a local thrift store. He found it odd because the school wears navy and gold. … A ref working a 1979-80 Dartmouth/BU women’s game wore a skirt, and both teams were wearing untucked jerseys. Here’s a full photo gallery from the game (from Tris Wykes). … Also from Tris: Here’s an old shot of Yale wearing Cooperalls. Also, check out the official’s jersey — no zebra stripes.

Soccer News: Readers of Denis Hurley‘s blog voted on the greatest color clashes in soccer. … The Premier League will switch back to white soccer balls for the remainder of the season. … Plymouth Argyle’s manager says his team wore its green away kit at home on Tuesday to please the fans, not because it clashes with the green seats or grass. “Argyle has been wearing green at home since forever, so to have it be an issue now is a little odd,” says reader Bob.

Grab Bag: Aussie football news: During last weekend’s game against Port Adelaide, all Geelong players wore a T-shirt-type top with sleeves, instead of the usual sleeveless jersey (from Graham Clayton). … President Trump is selling a St. Patrick’s Day-themed MAGA hat. But instead of a three-leaf shamrock, the hat features a four-leaf clover, which isn’t an Irish symbol (from Alex).

67 comments to Does Nike’s New Running Shoe Create an Unfair Advantage?

  • Jon Rose | March 9, 2017 at 8:00 am |

    Watching Australia v China. Clearly two of the better dressed teams of the WBC. I wish an MLB team had China’s red and yellow combo.

  • Morgan Doninger | March 9, 2017 at 8:04 am |

    Nice lede story, Paul. While most sports equipment stories like the new Nike shoes are about a piece of equipment making a sport too easy, your piece got me thinking about hockey and the long debate raging over something making the sport too hard; namely the size of the goalie equipment. The theory goes that since the equipment is so big now, the goalie takes up too much of the net and it is too hard for scorers to score. The NHL had already shrunk the size of the goalie’s pants this season, and the league is looking for more way to reduce the goalie gear size. I can’t think of another example of equipment being modified or banned by a sports governing body because it made the sport too hard instead of too easy. Can anybody else come up with something?

    • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 8:13 am |

      First, it’s important to remember that the NHL isn’t trying to modify goalie equipment. Rather, it’s trying to restore goalie gear to its former state. The equipment has slowly grown and expanded over the years — THAT’S the modification. The NHL is simply trying to scale back that modification.

      Second, keep in mind that your concept of “making the sport too hard” relies on a scoring-centric point of view. Larger goalie gear may make scoring harder, but it makes *score prevention* (which is just as important a part of the game) easier. Instead of saying that certain changes make the sport “easier” or “harder,” I think a better way of looking at it would be to refer to changes that increase or encourage scoring.

      As for other examples of that, the first thing that comes to mind is that MLB lowered the mound in 1969 (not technically an equipment change, but closely related). And that wasn’t scaling anything back — it was a fundamental change in the game’s specs designed to increase scoring (or to make hitting “easier,” if you prefer). I’m sure there are lots of other instances.

    • Wade Heidt | March 9, 2017 at 9:20 am |

      The one difference with goalie pad now compared to the past has much to do with design evolution. This assists the goalie. The pad is worn loose. When a goalie is on his knees now, the pad front surface shifts and is now perpendicular to the ice. This takes away any space along the ice with the pad evolution and butterfly style.

  • Bob | March 9, 2017 at 8:12 am |

    Cooperall item in the ticker is mistakenly in the college hoops section

    • walter | March 9, 2017 at 9:14 am |

      Not a fan of Cooperalls, but I like the striping on Yale’s set; they tried to make it look like breezers+stockings. And that was a sweet sweater the Elis had.

  • Mangler | March 9, 2017 at 8:14 am |

    It’s too bad the NBA regular season doesn’t extend into May; then Miami could wear “Ang Heat” jerseys for Asian Heritage Month. “Ang” is the singular form for “the” in Tagalog. (“Mga” is the plural.) I hope something like this could happen while Erik Spoelstra (Filipina mother) is still their head coach.

  • Johnny Swift | March 9, 2017 at 8:28 am |

    “Pussy hat not included” for a section about women’s rights and issues? Wow.

  • Turtle12 | March 9, 2017 at 8:39 am |

    Surely I can’t be the only one who wants to see EVERY ONE of these college baseball throwbacks become permanent…

    • Ernie_Davis 44 | March 9, 2017 at 9:24 am |

      you’re not

  • Matt | March 9, 2017 at 8:44 am |

    ”unfair” genetic advantage

    Interesting look at, kinda strange, but I guess I never thought of it that way.

    Do smarter students have “unfair” advantages as well?

    • walter | March 9, 2017 at 9:11 am |

      One person’s “unfair advantage” is another person’s “talent”. I made peace with the fact that I don’t understand calculus by focusing on my drawing. Such is the tapestry of the human race.

      • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 9:25 am |

        Being seven feet tall is not a “talent”; having 20/10 vision is not a “talent”; and so on.

        These are genetic advantages — fair or otherwise.

        • Eltee of DC | March 9, 2017 at 9:40 am |

          They are MUTANTS… holy X-men man!

        • duker | March 9, 2017 at 12:55 pm |

          It goes along with the old saying “You can’t coach speed.”

    • Bank employee | March 9, 2017 at 12:38 pm |

      The Sports Gene by David Epstein is an interesting read on this topic

  • BurghFan | March 9, 2017 at 8:44 am |

    Proofreading:

    “I think you could make a case that playing football with sticky football isn’t really football” sticky gloves?
    “and the Odell Beckham Jr. became Superman.”

    Welcome back, Paul, and thanks to everyone who kept things going during the vacation.

    • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 8:53 am |

      Fixed. And thanks, Jerry.

  • Ernie_Davis 44 | March 9, 2017 at 9:12 am |

    The shamrock v “four leaf clover” thing always bugs me, so I’m glad it’s once again highlighted. But there’s this then…

    In the Amazon series Sneaky Pete (pretty good, btw) several scenes take place at Irish Joe’s bar, which has a Celtic Football Club (here’s a shot from the show http://i.imgur.com/WDzKUyx.jpg) hanging, featuring a four leaf clover – totally acceptable, because Celtic are a Scottish team, not an Irish team. So… why would it hang in an Irish bar?

    • Paul | March 9, 2017 at 9:50 am |

      Celtic FC was formed by Irish immigrants in Scotland and traditionally had a large Irish Catholic following in both Scotland and Ireland.

    • Anthony | March 9, 2017 at 10:07 am |

      The four leaf clover is for luck. Since the hat is about the USA and not Ireland, I would say it’s appropriate in this case. Although I doubt it was given any thought in production.

  • Casey | March 9, 2017 at 9:14 am |

    The Nike shoes remind me of the Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) shoes that were banned by the NBA for giving an “unfair competitive advantage” for supposedly being able to increase a player’s vertical

  • Mike | March 9, 2017 at 9:43 am |

    Regarding the Plymouth Argyle away kit in the soccer section. Their away kit is white, not green. It’s the home kit that’s green. And as an FYI, Argyle are the only team in England 4 divisions to wear green at home.

    • Perry | March 9, 2017 at 10:17 am |

      Norwich? Granted in their case it’s the shorts, not the shirt, although the shirt has a significant amount of green trim.

    • Jonathan Sluss | March 12, 2017 at 4:39 pm |

      Yeovil also wears green hoops, but I think the main concern is how dark their green is this year. I went to a march at Home Park in September and I can see how they could easily blend into the background for night matches. Probably not so bad along the side where the benches are as there is no seating lower terrace.

  • Ed | March 9, 2017 at 10:22 am |

    Could they make the swoosh on that shoe any bigger?

    • Jon Rose | March 9, 2017 at 10:40 am |

      For some reason, I read that in the voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

  • Mangler | March 9, 2017 at 10:29 am |

    What do we make of bowling? It used to be that bowling balls were made of one substance, rubber. Then they started making them out of plastic, first polyester, then urethane. Pro bowlers have always carried multiple balls to competitions (where they put them all, I don’t know), but telecasts now display a player’s arsenal, listing model names and hook ratings.

    Oiling the lanes has always been part of the game, to keep the wooden lanes in good shape. But it has become a science, to the point that specific oiling patterns, many with distinct names, have been created to challenge bowlers. It’s given rise to a subset of competition called Sport Bowling, where participants play under conditions meant to challenge them at a world-class level.

    Is this all a natural evolution of the sport, or has bowling turned into something that no longer resembles the original product?

    • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 10:36 am |

      It’s not the same game. Neither is golf (carbon shafts, new ball dimple patterns, etc.). Neither is tennis (modern racket materials). We can debate whether these changes are good or bad, but there’s no debate about the magnitude of the changes themselves. The modern equipment allows the competitors to do things that literally could not be done with the older equipment.

      At one point, some bowlers “soaked” their balls in chemical baths, which gave them more hook. The practice was banned. More details here:
      http://www.ballreviews.com/miscellaneous/soaker-ball-t97599.0.html

      The urethane and reactive-resin balls that followed basically duplicated the soaker effect.

      • Dan Pfeifer | March 9, 2017 at 10:50 am |

        Fascinating that this gets brought up as the USGA begins discussions about potentially trying to standardize golf balls and maybe even introduce “80 percent balls” for longer shots to make shorter courses viable for the tour again. http://www.cbssports.com/golf/news/usga-ceo-suggests-golf-could-go-to-variable-distance-golf-ball/

      • Tim | March 9, 2017 at 5:52 pm |

        Golf Channel had a show the other night about the making 2016 movie Tommy’s Honour (which will be on the Golf Channel, soon). At any rate, they had Jordan Speith and his dad try to play with period golf clubs from the 1800s. Spieth equated the golf clubs as something close to caveman tools.

  • Neeko | March 9, 2017 at 10:32 am |

    but isn’t the whole history of sports basically a never-ending quest to enhance performance?
    No, it’s to win – enhancing performance seems like a personal goal, working out or something

    • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 10:37 am |

      And how do you win? By enhancing performance.

      • Neeko | March 9, 2017 at 10:51 am |

        I was thinking single game/ individual event – big picture, I suppose you’re right

  • Ross | March 9, 2017 at 10:51 am |

    I took no offense to it, because thats stupid, but the “Pussy Hat” title caught me off guard too. Had to scroll down to the comments to check it out! I applaud the reference now, but would recommend having that link under the title or in the article instead of burying it in the comments, either way nice issue to bring awareness to! Oh, and it appears Pussyhat is one word.

    On another note, interesting read on the Nike shoes, as a runner I’ve been aware of the Nike and Adidas sub 2 hour marathon programs and its been fun to follow. Will be interesting to see how it turns out.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 11:14 am |

      I applaud the reference now, but would recommend having that link under the title or in the article instead of burying it in the comments, either way nice issue to bring awareness to!

      It honestly had not occurred to me — and, frankly, stuns me — that any Uni Watch reader would not be familiar with the pussyhat phenomenon.

      • Anthony | March 9, 2017 at 11:25 am |

        Never heard of it myself until now.

        • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 11:52 am |

          Google it. It’s a pretty big thing.

          More here:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Women's_March#Pussyhat_Project

        • Will S | March 9, 2017 at 6:28 pm |

          Never heard of it myself either to now.

          Funny thing, just before I reading this, the television was on in the background and the local news was showing a local Women’s Day march with some of the participants wearing the pink hats with ears.

          I was just wondering what’s with the hats?

      • Jon Rose | March 9, 2017 at 11:41 am |

        Even I knew about it, and I’m a knuckle dragger.

  • RickAZ | March 9, 2017 at 10:54 am |

    Don’t understand the Spanish NBA uniforms with “EL”. Shouldn’t “EL HEAT” be “EL CALOR”, and “EL SUNS” be “EL SOLS”?

    • Mike Engle on iPhone | March 9, 2017 at 11:10 am |

      Market research confirms that Spanish speaking NBA fans refer to the teams as El Heat, Los Suns, etc. But the Knicks properly translate their jersey to Nueva York…because that’s what the city is called and because the Knicks don’t put the team name on the jersey.

      • Dumb Guy | March 9, 2017 at 11:37 am |

        Probably mentioned here every year, but why the “El” on the jerseys?

        Their ‘Murican jerseys don’t say “The Heat”.
        I get it when referring to the team name, not as a single word.
        .
        .
        .

        The name of this band is not El Cabezas Parlantes.

  • Matt Hyde | March 9, 2017 at 11:05 am |

    To expound on the Premier League ball change. They change to what they call a hi-vis ball during their winter months (late Oct – first of Mar) because of the dark and dreary weather. It’s an interesting concept. Imagine if College football or the NFL changed their ball based on the weather & lighting conditions.

    • John H. | March 9, 2017 at 3:32 pm |

      The NFL used a white ball for evening games for several years in the 40s and 50s. Then they used a regular ball with added stripes for late afternoon and evening games until the late 70s.

      • Matt Hyde | March 9, 2017 at 5:31 pm |

        Interesting. Thanks

  • J Hare | March 9, 2017 at 11:18 am |

    The nameless numberless pitcher for Team Mexico was in fact a Padres minor leaguer loaned for the game, presumably to get him some work and preserve the Mexico’s arms for WBC play.

  • Dumb Guy | March 9, 2017 at 11:43 am |

    The unfairness thing makes me think immediately of NASCAR. Supposubbly, every driver is driving the same car–or at least within the same criteria.

    Is it the IROC thing where they LITERALLY are driving identical cars?

    • Turtle12 | March 9, 2017 at 2:25 pm |

      It was IROC.

  • Dan Pfeifer | March 9, 2017 at 11:49 am |

    Ah, Paul, you came back with authority. The lede is one of those deep-think pieces that are sorely lacking in sports (and maybe the media as a whole), but you do them so well. Great stuff.

    The one thing I think you could have elaborated on more are the occasions where, yes, it’s clear the technological advancement went over the line. While yes, a lot of innovations simply enhance performance, at some point, the innovation takes the performance sufficiently out of the picture. At that point, I think folks balk. For an extreme theoretical example, yes, the marathon record is getting close to two hours, and the shoes might help the 2:00-mark fall. But it’s not like man hasn’t gone 26.2 miles in less than two hours. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and anyone who’s driven faster than 13.1 miles per hour for at least one hour has done it, but a car is not deemed allowable equipment in a marathon. Also, a jetpack could be considered equipment and could rocket you 26.2 miles through a marathon course in, like, five minutes, perhaps with your feet touching the ground every so often such that you’re “running.” But that pretty clearly doesn’t constitute “running a marathon.” How about small jets attached to shoes, though? Those probably wouldn’t help much, but would help some. And so on.

    It’s interesting to see what is or isn’t considered “across” that line. It even varies from sport to sport. Metal woods in golf? Those were somehow deemed fine, maybe because they were seen as a mere variation on irons. Metal bats in baseball? No, but moving from ash to maple is OK, and they’ve taken steps at the college level to try and make metal bats swing and hit more like wood bats.

    The swimsuits were an odd case, though. Most articles point to the 2009 World Championships and the 43 records that fell for FINA to say the suits took too much of a leap too fast.

    Going back to add the swimsuits to the golf & baseball examples, part of what makes a difference seems to be how much the sport and its fans measures what the change effects against history. For all the history golf has, I don’t sense scoring is compared through the years as much, probably due to the widely differing course conditions that can occur from one day to the next. A course record is notable, but probably not as notable as winning a certain number of tournaments (Jack Nicklaus’ 20 majors), winning them by a certain margin (Tiger Woods’ 12-stroke Masters win) or winning them in a particularly miraculous way (Ben Hogan’s 1-iron at Marion). So, because no one is comparing Rory McIlroy’s scores to Old Tom Morris’, Nicklaus’ or Woods’, equipment changes seem more OK. But interest in swimming is as much about breaking records as it is beating the competition, and if Mike Trout were to hit .400 with a metal bat, fans would assume Ted Williams was rolling over … er … his frozen head was … well … you know what I mean.

    In the end, though, I think the ultimate question that determines what’s over the line is: Does it make the sport better to watch? Granted, that’s a little icky in a way that it feels like the marketing tail wagging the dog again, but oddly enough, that does usually correspond with whether or not the sport is better, more enjoyable, or more satisfying for its participants, too. With the swimsuits, the answer was “No.” When records fall because of the suit and not the swimmer, it made both the swimmers and viewers feel like the records, and sport, had less meaning. Same thing for larger goalie pads. Same thing for when pitching got too good and they lowered the mound. Same thing with metal bats — at lower levels, they don’t make much of a difference, but at the levels where you’re either measuring yourself against history (MLB) or preparing yourself to do so (MiLB), it would be too much of a change. Same thing for the theoretical jetpacks I described above — it would make marathons look like a weird variation on motorsports. The physical challenge of running a marathon is what makes the sport compelling.

    With the shoes, here’s my thought: Maybe they try and encourage runners to try and break the 2-hour mark without the shoes, then, when it’s broken, they allow the shoes and see how low the times go. That way, no one can go all Mars Blackmon and say, “It’s gotta be the shoes.” But then, once the two-hour mark is gone and that accomplishment doesn’t have an asterisk, see how low the time can go with the new equipment. That way, I think everyone “wins.”

    Great piece, though, Paul. Anything that makes me think that much is great stuff.

    • Paul Lukas | March 9, 2017 at 11:54 am |

      Thanks, Dan. Bonus points for the Ted Williams frozen head reference.

    • Dan T. | March 9, 2017 at 1:57 pm |

      From one Dan to another: great comment!

  • Graham | March 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm |

    Michigan Men’s Basketball got stuck in MI due to some bad weather last night. They just got to DC for the Big Ten tournament, but their equipment didn’t. They are going to play in their practice gear.

    https://twitter.com/umichbball/status/839872555972497412/photo/1

    • scott | March 9, 2017 at 7:39 pm |

      The full story is a little more complicated than that, as the stories seem to indicate the uniforms are being held as part of the investigation into the plane skidding off the runway.

  • mild bill | March 9, 2017 at 12:24 pm |

    Thanks for the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament program covers. They are spectacular.

  • Tim Dunigan | March 9, 2017 at 12:46 pm |

    The “retired” number situation talked about with the Phillies is something I’ve wondered about for a long time. The Yankees are, the best example, and growing up in St.Louis, the Cards have their fair share of numbers no longer used. I suppose eventually they will have to figure something out or just go to triple numbers as we have seen done in Japan. I always thought one answer might be to allow the number to be used again but it’s a Certain Color or font that is different than all the others on the team, thus still showing that it’s been worn by someone of excellence in past history of the team. With that said I find seeing a pitcher come into a game sporting 99 or 74,not as shocking as I used too, I guess I can get used to seeing those numbers at other positions also.

    • Ferdinand Cesarano | March 9, 2017 at 3:34 pm |

      It seems to me that the obvious answer for the Phillies is to change their policy about retiring the numbers only of those guys who make the Hall of Fame. That way, if they want a number out of circulation, they just retire it.

      Still, even teams that have no such policy can sometimes run into trouble with numbers that are not retired but have been put aside. The Yankees (who have too many retired numbers!) once gave out Paul O’Neill’s no. 21, and faced a fan backlash. And the Mets raised some eyebrows when Rickey Hendersson donned Willie Mays’s no. 24.

  • Max | March 9, 2017 at 12:52 pm |

    Great job on the running shoe lede. Made me immediately think of another piece of footwear technology that changed a sport: the clap skate in long track speed skating.

    Unlike a traditional fixed blade skate, a clap skate has a spring and a hinge, so the blade unhinges with every stride. The blade stays on the ice longer, allowing for a better, more powerful stroke.

    At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first with the clap skate, multiple world records fell, and skaters beat their previous best times by as much as 31 seconds (see NYT article below).

    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1998-02-03/sports/1998034115_1_clap-skate-skate-sport-international-skating-union
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clap_skate
    http://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/18/sports/the-xviii-winter-games-speed-skating-records-shattered-by-dutch-in-sweep.html

    Another winter sport with a major technological change was ice hockey, and the introduction of the whippier composite stick. Composite sticks are designed to flex more easily than wood, allowing players to shoot the puck harder with the same effort. Composite sticks also break much more easily than wood and, from a consumer perspective, are much more expensive (think wooden bat vs. aluminum). Not a problem for the pro’s, but potentially a major financial burden for a family in an already expensive sport.
    https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2012/12/22/evolution_of_the_hockey_stick.html

  • Rich H | March 9, 2017 at 12:58 pm |

    The thing that always comes to mind with these equipment conversations is Chris Boardmans banned Superman position.

    • Eltee of DC | March 9, 2017 at 2:43 pm |

      Speaking of a Superman position,

      Adrien Van Viersen, an excellent storyboard artist reimagines how Clark Kent, a minor league reporter in Cleveland (first gig) summons his UNI WATCHin’ skills to create a BRAND, based on Sideshow Artists and Carnies.

      In a FREE web comic that is spot on in it’s golden age o comix portrayal of what journalists do on the hunt for a great story.

      Great stuff, nicely done

      http://www.adrienvanviersen.com/fan-comics/superman-the-golden-age/

    • Kevin | March 9, 2017 at 4:17 pm |

      You mean Graeme O’Bree’s position that CB used to set the hour record? ;)

  • 1vox | March 9, 2017 at 7:52 pm |

    Geelong did NOT wear that sleeved jumper in a match v Port Adelaide Power.

    That sleeved preseason jumper has been/will be worn for all preseason Geelong matches this year which includes round 1 match v Hawthorn on Feb. 17, round 2 match v Adelaide Crows (team in link…that’s not Port Adelaide) played on March 5, as well as upcoming final preseason round 3 match, this weekend v Essendon.

    Geelong v Hawthorn: http://www.afl.com.au/match-centre/jlt-community-series/2017/1/haw-v-geel

    Geelong v Adelaide Crows: http://www.afl.com.au/match-centre/jlt-community-series/2017/3/adel-v-geel

  • Cole P | March 9, 2017 at 8:56 pm |

    My high school track was made out of recycled car tires to give that same spring effect. I corse, it’s not an advantage because everyone competes in the same track

  • Jay | March 9, 2017 at 9:34 pm |

    Loved this post. There’s a word missing in here, though: “pretty much anything other [than?] competing naked constitutes performance enhancement”