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Archive for January 12, 2007

Jan. 12, 2007 — The “protection” argument

The arguments that doctors and orthopedists (often paid spokespeople for equipment manufacturers) use for putting extraneous equipment on athletes — and sometimes coaches — boils down to the argument, “Protection is good.” Or, “It’s for your own protection.”

Now, since Sept. 11, 2001, the words “security” and “protection” have been some of the most overused and misused words in the English language. “Security” has been used to justify purchasing video cameras to watch a water tower in Arizona, to get access to library records, and to allow unlimited domestic warrentless wiretapping of telephone calls.

And the President of the United States has used, on numerous occasions, this phrase in public speeches: “The job of the President, above all, is to protect the American people.”

The thing is, the only constitutional duty of the President, when it comes to protection, comes from the oath of office: “… preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” In other words, if, by protecting people from harm, you damage the Constitution, you haven’t done your job.

Think about this situation as regards the argument for mandating protective eyewear. The paid eyewear spokespeople have tried to mandate protection in sports where you wouldn’t think it would be necessary, such as wrestling. But the thing is, there is a paternalistic bent to these arguments that seems to target female athletes.

Take, for instance, the imposition of masks on batting helmets in baseball and softball. Where has the imposition of the new batting helmets been more prevalent? Girls’ fastpitch softball, where it is thought that the players need more protection even though the game is called “softball.” You don’t see much in the way of protection in baseball over and above the batting helmets which are a 60s-era innovation.

It was the same type of sexism which was shown several years ago when a female catcher in Little League baseball was required to wear a boys’ protective cup.

What orthopedists fail to say is that, thoughout history, the concept of protection, in and of itself, is imperfect. For any protective device made by man — the castle wall and a moat, the bulletproof vest, a Presidential limousine — countermeasures can be manufactured, or can occur randomly, that render the best thought-0ut protection scheme ineffective.

In field hockey, you can protect eyes and orbital bones with some of the eyewear out there, but not every injury in field hockey is preventable. As we discussed yesterday, more than half of the injuries in the Olympics that required missing games were non-contact injuries.

And there are plenty of unintended consequences that an eyewear mandate will create. Goggles do not protect the temple, the back of the head, the jaw, the cheek, the throat, or the nose. Bonnie Shea, a player for Walpole (Mass.), reports breaking an opponent’s nose even with Massachusetts public schools wearing goggles.

Furthermore, what if players start developing tunnel vision, start bending over the ball whilst dribbling, and then start having compression injuries of the neck or spine? What if the nature of the game changes forever?

In short, I believe that the best “protection” in the game of field hockey comes with proper coaching and training as well as proper maintenance of competition surfaces.

To my mind, the rulesmakers don’t need to protect field hockey players: they need to protect the game. If the National Federation’s field hockey rules committee does not have that singular goal in mind next weekend, it is not doing its job.