Safety First: Prioritizing Safe Fan and Player Experiences in Sports

Injury risk seems baked into sports at all levels, but risk isn’t what makes sports so fun — at least not the physical risk. Spectating sports is fun because it allows one to be emotionally invested, whether one is watching from home or from within the throngs of fans packing stadiums and arenas around the world. Sports are fun because of the sense of community and camaraderie they imbue within our lives.

For those of us not lucky enough to get to play the games we love, all we have is consuming sports via writing, television, radio, and social media. For many of us, sports provide an added layer of meaning to our lives. Globally that may not seem relatable, but sports have bridged racial, gender, and political divides for centuries. Sports is simply a microcosm of society in many ways as well as a powerful thread within the broader social fabric that is becoming more and more frayed by technology.

A lack of safety is not what makes sports what they are today. The addition of helmets in many major sports came in the 1950s, often in response to injuries. Baseball, football, and hockey all altered or added new protective headgear around this time, and despite the anger of the “purists” within each sport, these innovations have not damaged the integrity of the game. They have made it safer for the players.

Now it’s the players’ turns to push for a safer fan environment. The players, who as the idols have the easiest time gaining the backing of the fans, need to push for more netting and ensure fans that they will still be able to enjoy the game they love. In the wake of Reinaldo Albert Almora Jr.’s line drive foul ball striking a child — who survived thankfully without major injury — in Houston on Wednesday, May 29, many players and baseball analysts reached out on social media. Almora Jr. received plenty of love and hate, and a battle emerged on Twitter between the so-called “baseball purists,” who care more about having the game remain the way it has always been, and those more interested in protecting fans from the players they adore.

I’ll admit, I’ve always wanted to catch a foul ball, but I’ve also felt nervous about a line drive striking a loved one sitting next to me. The trade-off is simply not worth it. So many of us have fallen in love with the game without having been graced by a looping major league pop-up arcing into our outreached glove. I will still go to baseball games if there is netting from foul pole to foul pole, just like I would still watch football even if their helmets became more protective, or if hits to the head or neck in hockey or football were completely outlawed. No game is about unnecessary injury risk, and no game is made better by these risks.

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