Technology in sports isn’t limited to just stats analysis or number crunching computers. Another facet of technology in sports is the arena of bio-technology. Biotech is the use of technology to develop means of increasing athletic performance through cellular and biomolecular processes. That sounds complex, and it is. Advances in biotechnology in sports have lead to development of steroids, performance enhancing drugs (PED) and human growth hormones (HGH). But not all biotechnology outcomes are negative. Biotechnology resulted in the understanding of fast vs slow twitch muscles, and how to develop them individually for greater athletic performance.
Most of the positive developments in biotechnology relate to the the sub-field of bio-mechanics. Bio-mechanics is the study of the mechanical system within the body, including muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Bio-mechanics studies have revealed issues relating to brain injuries in football players and boxers, as well as ways to address elbow and shoulder injuries in baseball and tennis players. Bio-technology companies are being contracted by all the major athletic organizations to help protect the organizations’ athletes from devastating injuries that can last a lifetime. An example of such developments are new safety features in football helmets and padding that help protect the players against concussions or neck injuries.
Biotechnology often takes the low road when gaining peak performance becomes associated with illicit advantages and large sums of money. This area of biotechnology seeks to give the athlete a boost in his performance from chemical concoctions that allow an artificially fueled growth in muscle growth. Some foods naturally help your body create steroids – eggs, spinach and quinoa for example. In the old days, athletes would fill up on steak and potatoes as their ‘steroids’. Today, nutritionists prescribe athletes a strict diet of steroid-producing foods that can naturally (and legally) produce muscle-enhancing drugs within the body. Protein shakes are another example of the merger of nutrition and biotechnology that legally helps athletes reach peak performance.
On the other hand, unscrupulous businessmen and athletes often collaborate in order to provide athletic gains above their competition by illegal means. These drugs, often administered through injections, don’t have the benefit of lengthy studies ensuring the users’ safety in the short and long term. These athletes are willing to potentially sacrifice the future of their health for short term gains in performance. It’s this seedy side of athletics and biotechnology that give athletic organizations a bad name. Organizations like Major League Baseball have been rife with substance abuse, and only now is the truth being uncovered.
Biotechnology can be used for the benefit or detriment of athletes. The impact on the affected sport can be positive or negative, or both. Greater athletic performance provides spectators with greater enjoyment, but eventually, when the truth is revealed, the sport suffers a public relations nightmare. Players are pitted against players with allegations, lawsuits, penalties. The resulting damage to athletes gives the public pause. An example of such athletes is Junior Seau’s recent suicide. It was later exposed that he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain injury that likely resulted from multiple concussions. The negative publicity resulted in a lawsuit brought on by a group of 5000 players against the NFL.