Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
The Good and Bad of the Mic'd Up Concept
Recently, Major League Baseball decided to test out some new technology for spring training games. They “mic’d up” Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs as he stepped into the batter's box while facing the L.A. Angels. What everyone heard was Rizzo saying “I’m doing some math in my head about where he is going to throw. Someone bang for me.”
His comment was directed at the Houston Astros who in this past offseason were found guilty of stealing signals from other teams, but in a manner that is deemed illegal and part of their shenanigans involved the banging on garbage cans as a way of communicating what pitch was coming next. The mic’d up technology has been used in other sports and primarily in the National Football League. Maybe I’m on an island by myself, but I don’t like it.
Perhaps at 60 years old, I’m “old school.” Professional sports just aren’t the same these days, especially when relating to how it was when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. On the “Golic and Wingo” show this morning, they were raving about baseball’s idea of being able to listen to a player as he takes his turn at the plate and even into the play as it develops as Rizzo did when he reached first base on a hit. By attaching microphones to players it takes all mystery out of the game and leaves no room for the imagination of what an athlete might be thinking.
Another issue with being mic’d up is that with a player knowing every word he mutters is being listened to, how can he/she possibly act natural? Normally, most players coming to the plate in baseball to take a swing with a bat would be focused and concentrating. Sometimes they might mutter something to the catcher but for Rizzo, he obviously knew his voice was being heard so he purposely made the crack about the Astros. Does anyone really find that humorous and entertaining?
It seems every year sports gets another new technology upgrade. Some new idea or creation that is supposed to enhance a fan’s experience. What it is doing is taking away from the integrity of the game. Again, old school thinking is just to give me a baseball game where players take the game much more seriously and the competitive level is way higher. Gone are the days of baseball basics…stealing bases, sacrifice hits, etc., and not all these crazy statistics like WAR (wins above replacement) or VORP (value over replacement player). You will be amazed if you look up baseball statistics on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_statistics) at the number of stats that are kept.
Give me batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, stolen bases, complete games (which hardly even exist these days), wins, saves, doubles, triples, that’s all baseball needs. Not an encyclopedia of stats that can make you dizzy. In football, they have players wearing microphones and unlike the old days when two teams met and there was real animosity between opposing players, now you can hear men on the field joking with each other, ribbing each other in a fun way and there is absolutely no intimidation left for us to enjoy.
Gone are the days of the Jack Tatum’s, Jack Lambert’s, hard-nosed play and intimidating tackles like that of Dick Butkus, Deacon Jones, Ray Lewis. The NFL now has cameras all over stadiums to give you this angle and that angle, microphones everywhere to pick up almost everything (except for Cleveland’s Myles Garrett who insists the Steelers’ Mason Garrett used a racial slur against him, yet no one but Garrett heard it).
Technology has taken sports to a new level and most of it is based on statistical information. In MMA, they are tracking significant strikes landed per minute, significant striking accuracy, significant strikes absorbed per minute, significant strike defense (the % of opponents strikes that did not land), average takedowns landed per 15 minutes, takedown accuracy, takedown defense (the % of opponents td attempts that did not land), and average submissions attempted per 15 minutes. But I ask you what good are these stats if judges fail to get the winner right? All the recent controversial decisions that have been rendered make these stats meaningless.
So this brings me back to my original point. What is the purpose of mic’ing up an athlete? Again, he knows he is on the air and so he or she either has the choice to be careful with their words or they can say whatever they feel like but in my opinion its not true sentiments because it’s being done for entertainment and so they will try to entertain us. As I said, perhaps I’m alone in the belief and opinion that there is just too much technology interfering with professional sports and it has taken away from the general enjoyment of the sports utilizing these methods of just watching the sport for what it was originally intended to be.
The existence of the internet and specifically social media is another HUGE issue with the ruining of the integrity of sports. Because of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, athletes and fans alike have taken to these outlets to talk about anything and everything making nothing in personal lives or the sports themselves sacred anymore. Social media has led to so many outbursts pitting one athlete against another, trash-talking, inappropriate comments (most recently middleweight champion Israel Adesanya using twin towers reference in what he is going to do to Yoel Romero), it distracts from the true essence of the sport.
With pro sports making so many billions of dollars, that fact is not helping with the entertainment value either. Players hold out for the biggest contracts they can achieve and many times they don’t play to the value they receive. In combat sports because of money fans are getting cheated on fights that should actually take place and instead we get those who are most popular signing contracts for big money fights while the real challengers get shafted and must work much harder to earn the most money (such as Conor McGregor being allowed to fight whoever he wants despite what the rankings indicate).
No matter where professional sports takes us, if you’ve been following sports as long as I have (it will be 50 years next year), it’s impossible to just turn your back on being a fan. We are forced to roll with the punches and take whatever each sport’s commissioner or president gives to us as their product. Like it or not, technology is the way of the world now and there is no getting rid of it. It will continue to grow, it will continue to create bigger and more serious problems, and as this column speaks to, in my opinion, it will simply make professional sports worse and take it further away from its roots. That’s very unfortunate.