Let’s take a look at what poses threats to major American sports leagues and pro tours.
NHL, concussions. There are a lot of sharp and hard objects around a hockey rink. The sticks, puck, ice surface, boards, glass and goal posts can all conspire against a player’s health and well-being. Can you believe there was a time when goalies didn’t wear masks and players didn’t wear helmets? This is a contact sport that still allows fighting, a vehicle for head injuries. Although new information regarding concussions probably imperils American football more than ice hockey, the NHL still should be alarmed. Already there are class-action lawsuits from former players claiming the league hasn’t done enough to protect players from concussions.
PGA Tour, equipment. In many ways, the refinement and advancement of golf balls and clubs are simply outstripping the game. Many venerable golf courses have to be “gimmicked-up” in order to remain challenging enough to host major tournaments. Unless the PGA and the United States Golf Association intervene, players may soon be driving perfectly dimpled balls close to 400 yards. Belly putters also pose a problem, although the “anti-anchor” rule is a good step forward. However, more needs to be done to standardize all golf equipment. Otherwise golf will be less a test of skill and ability and more a test of who has the best designed and engineered equipment.
NBA, draft lottery and tanking games. Finishing with the worst record in the NBA and preserving your draft picks does not guarantee a team the first selection in the draft. Still, the present lottery system has not been sufficient to deter teams from shedding salaries, trading top players for peanuts and tanking the season. The 2014 Philadelphia 76ers provide a good example. After their fire sale near the trade deadline, the Sixers hardly resemble an NBA team. Their goal is to use the draft to turn around their sagging fortunes and their attitude seems to be the lower they can sink the better.
The NBA draft is unique. Baseball and hockey drafts are virtual crapshoots because the talents and abilities of players in these sports are not as well-known at the time they are drafted. And NFL teams have to stock over 50 players, so tanking a season for a top pick cannot in itself turn a football team around, even when a top-flight quarterback is available. The NBA, on the other hand, has so few players on the court and on the team that each player is magnified. Just one LeBron James or Kevin Durant can turn things around in a hurry. There is still too strong an incentive for NBA teams to tank games for a shot at a top pick. The NBA needs to further tweak the draft lottery and make sure teams are competing throughout the season. To accomplish this, the NBA may need to void lopsided trades designed to dump salary and race to the bottom for the sake of the draft. The only way to end the temptation to tank games is to implement a system whereby a cellar dweller is not guaranteed even a lottery pick.
NFL, concussions. Fewer youngsters are playing American football. From 2010 to 2012, Pop Warner football participation saw a 9.5 percent decrease. It is true youngsters are distracted by modern gadgets, but another primary reason for kids abandoning football is their parents’ reluctance to let them onto the field. Concerns about concussions and other bodily injuries are fueling this hesitation. This is very bad news indeed for the NFL because many fans start out as young players who first start watching football to emulate what the pros do. If boys never play the game they are less likely to start following it, and this will erode the fan base. Concussions are being linked to everything from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Football is a contact sport whose nuts and bolts involve blocking and tackling. The sport takes a hit with each new revelation regarding concussions.
MLB, PEDs. Baseball has always been about comparing records over time. The Steroid Era ruined baseball’s record book and crippled one of the primary assets the once national pastime had going. Even now when a player posts numbers that look like Babe Ruth circa 1927, people immediately wonder if that player is on something.
Although baseball was slow to embrace drug testing, it now has one of the most stringent programs around. But is it possible to stay ahead of the curve concerning PEDs? Human nature has always led man to seek an edge. If something can improve his memory or eyesight of physicality, he is helpless to resist it. How difficult is it, really, for the next BALCO or Biogenesis to alter a couple molecules to enable a PED client to slip through even the toughest drug testing? Steroids, HGH and testosterone are in and of themselves not good or bad. The medical community is helping patients every day by prescribing the proper dosages of these substances. The problem with PEDs comes when a player or performer derives an unfair advantage over someone else because he’s using enhancers while his competitor isn’t. A radical proposal is to make everyone aware of the long-term health consequences of PED use and then turn everyone loose to use whatever they want. The fences may need to be moved back a bit. But the key is everyone must be abiding by the same rules. All sports are dealing with the issue of chemicals, but with baseball the PED issue is front and center.
Other major threats. In addition to what was mentioned, illegal sports betting and gambling by players always lurks in the background and must be constantly monitored. Also it will always reflect poorly on a league if too many of its players are misbehaving and being booked into the criminal justice system.