So we’re in the thick of the pro football season. Maybe not normally a topic we associate with geekery, but geeks come in all flavors, and let me tell you, my Facebook feed is full of football updates (and to quote The IT Crowd, my friends list is pretty much limited to self-proclaimed “standard nerds”). Even I’ve gotten into it this year, which is honestly bizarre for me: I didn’t attend a big football college, and despite having been in the marching band in high school and thus attending every single football game, I managed to absorb absolutely nothing.
Maybe it was the pageantry that got me. I love a big event (plastered to the screen at every Olympics) so I’ve watched the Superbowl for years. And I’ve gotten into other sports here and there, basketball, ice skating, gymnastics (you see why the Olympics are big for me). Perhaps it was just a matter of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not starting a fantasy league just yet, but I’m not entirely casual, either.
So here’s the thing about me and sports: I’ve never actually played any. Not even in gym at school; I managed to avoid that by being in band. So I’m watching these people doing these superhuman things with their bodies, and I don’t have an actual frame of reference, and after awhile it just looks… normal. Like watching Cirque du Soleil; by the end you’ve redefined the laws of physics in your head so you can pick your jaw off the floor.
Occasionally, though, I’ll get a wake-up call. This is what happened with ice skating. As a child I saw The Cutting Edge in theaters with my sister and our friends, and came out of it wanting to zip around the ice and go for the gold. I didn’t live in a place with actual ice and snow, so I’d had no first-hand experience, but the next day we headed out to the local indoor ice rink.
If you’ve ever been ice skating, you’re probably not shocked when I tell you it’s hard, especially for a little kid. I mean the ice, literally, is hard. And cold, and way bumpier than it looks on screen. With one or two falls, I became instantly okay with supporting figure skating instead of learning it myself. Athletes, man. They put themselves through a lot.
So now I’m watching football, but with the perspective of an adult, not to mention HD television and great sound. And as entertaining as football is, I’m just a little appalled every time I hear the crunching of helmets or see a player get injured. It’s not a rare occurrence; someone gets injured in some way every single game. And we’re not just talking bruises; head injuries are serious business. Sure, the athletes know what they’re getting into, particularly at the pro level, but I wouldn’t mind if they developed some sort of Stay-Puft marshmallow suit that protected them completely.
So the FOX network has this CG robot (named Cleatus, apparently) with glowing eyes who pops up in the intro to the games and at the commercial breaks. And it occurred to me: would I still watch football if it were played by robots? Personally, I think so – especially if they were still controlled by a human, a la Real Steel or Pacific Rim, and retained the personality.
Just think of the possibilities: football fans making their own mini-players to battle. Even more crazy action on the field – a combination of Robot Wars, souped-up car racing, and sports. Regular football wouldn’t be obsolete, but it would remain a game, played by neighborhood kids. Since there’s no pro field to aspire to, there wouldn’t be an increase in the level of danger. Kids might pretend to be “pro robots,” in much the same way as they might pretend to be Iron Man, but they would understand that the superhuman actions are just that – superhuman.
So maybe it’s not a perfect solution; after all, which sports would be deemed dangerous enough for robots? You can tear an ACL by doing almost anything. What about those who use sports as a ticket to higher education? Plus there’s the whole “viable technology” issue – and who wants to pay for new robots every week?
Football as it is today is probably not going anywhere, but the sf geek in me enjoys envisioning the sport with a little bit of a technological edge. Maybe sports really are an extension of some primal need to battle, to compete and run at each other. I just don’t think the thrill of the crunch necessarily has to come from human heads.