More than a quarter century ago, Ray Sullivan, then editor of The Lima News, asked several people in our community to take a shot at predicting what they believed their line of work would look like 100 years into the future. He asked me to predict what I thought the sporting scene would look in the year 2090. Here is the column I wrote:
The skill of predicting the future by studying the past will only help in examining our most recent history. The proliferation of sports in terms of involvement and interest in this past century is unprecedented.
In the last 100 years we have grown from a country with a casual interest in the births of baseball, basketball and football to one where our most dominant images are in the sports culture. The growth and changes in the sporting world in just the last 20 years were nearly impossible to imagine two decades ago.
That Michael Jordan can earn 25 times more money from a simple shoe endorsement in one year than the President of the United States can take home in eight years is testimony to both the success of sports and its marketing, and to the failure of our society to put the phenomena in perspective.
To find the changes upcoming in the sports world, follow the money. For those still trying to make character and values a part of the chemistry important in sports, this comes as bad news. Unfortunately, the glorification of self has found itself in the mainstream of the sports experience. Combined with the lure of financial incentive, the mixture feeds the notion that what is important has less to do with the values like commitment, attitude and cooperation than it does with personal gratification.
Keeping all of that in mind, here’s my predictions.
In the short term, look for pay for view cable TV to dominate the whole scene from professional down to high school athletics.
Professional athletics will go global. Franchises will be in every hemisphere and some countries will risk national debts to sign top athletes in their respective sports.
Seasons will disappear as schedules grow to 12 months. Coaches on the professional level will be replaced by a computer analyst who will make decisions based upon factors ranging from statistical probability to salary considerations. But they will still be subject to limited job security.
Eventually the collective weight of ego, financial burdens and public boredom will collapse professional sports. By the middle of the next century it will bear more resemblance to the early 1950s than to today’s model.
State high school athletic associations will also follow the scent of money and will merge into alliances that allow regional and national tournaments with lucrative television contracts and endorsement opportunities. Some team sports will suffer at the high school level as more athletes choose to specialize in high visibility minor sports. Eventually, many teams will represent cities instead of individual high schools.
In the short run, look for the once fertile inner-city poverty areas to produce fewer and fewer athletes as public indifference, crack cocaine and a lack of financial support knocks the legs out from under the athletic programs and community support groups so vital in providing young athletes the opportunity to expand their horizons.
There also will be a severe shortage of coaches with educational degrees, as fewer young people will choose to face the pressure to win and the unrealistic expectations of those involved in athletic support groups.
Athletes will continue to get bigger, stronger and faster. Records of today will be consistently broken by tomorrow’s junior high athletes.
A female will emerge in an individual sport and win consistently at the professional level against male competition. Sorry guys, get used to it.
Advances in medicine and sports therapy will allow athletes to recover quickly from even the most debilitating injuries, thus prolonging careers. Bionic replacement parts will be a huge controversy within 50 years.
The size and dimensions of playing fields will expand. Hoop rims will be raised in basketball. Outfield walls will be moved back in baseball to accommodate for the tremendous surge in power as metal and new synthetic bats chase pitchers behind protection shields.
In most sports, the human element will be taken out of officiating completely. Refereeing will be done with computer enhanced monitors making the calls. This will lengthen games but not remove some crowd disapproval for every judgment made.
A major new sport will be invented that combines intelligence, speed and reflexes in a virtual-reality computer environment. By the end of the century the sport will have its own Hall of Fame.
The best news is sports will still provide participants with the opportunity to compete. And, regardless of the level of experience or time frame, the lessons will include how to deal with success and disappointment. Especially for the young athlete, the art of resiliency will continue to be the most rewarding lesson and will allow them to learn they can be strengthened by the very blow that cuts them down. Renewed by the driving desire that has always inspired our athletes and leaders, they will eagerly confront the next challenge with enthusiasm. They will learn the rewards of their participation in athletic competition, including friendships and healthy lifestyle choices, have less to do with expectations of others than with the personal satisfaction that comes from working tirelessly toward reaching their own potential.
Twenty-five years after writing that column, I wouldn’t change much, knowing I still have 75 more years for my prognostications to become reality.
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.