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Foul play? Is using high-tech sports gear unfair? You decide

When the Olympics first began in ancient Greece, athletes competed barefoot–and sometimes even naked! Today, equipment (and clothing!) is an important part of any game. Modern gear helps athletes perform better than ever before.

Although most gear is accepted by professional sports leagues, some people think certain products give athletes an unfair advantage. Some gear is even banned. Do you think these five pieces of sports equipment should be allowed?

Hit a Hole in One

Imagine a golf ball that you can’t hit off-course. That’s the idea behind the Polara Ultimate Straight, a golf ball designed to always fly straight.

In the 1500s, early golfers used a leather ball. They noticed that the more scuffed the ball got, the better it flew. Today, golf balls are covered in dimples. They create turbulence around the ball, pushing it farther.

The dimples around the middle of a Polara ball are shallower than those around the rest of the ball. This gives the bail more weight at its center. When hit incorrectly, a standard ball can spin sideways. Polara’s heavy middle resists that motion and stays straight. It’s not allowed in professional play.

Get a Nonslip Grip

In the 1970s, football players used a product called Stickum to help them hold on to the ball. This gluelike substance made the ball stick to their hands or gloves. In 1981, after players started coating their hands and arms in a heavy layer of the sticky goo, the National Football League banned Stickum.

Today, many football players use special gloves that act a lot like Stickum. These gloves have sticky, rubber-like material on the palms and fingers. The material helps receivers grip the ball when they make a catch. The NFL currently allows these “sticky” gloves/

Hit More Home Runs

The bat at right, known as a composite bat, can strike fear into the hearts of pitchers. Not only can it send the ball flying over the fences with ease, it can be a safety risk too.

All baseball bats used to be made of wood. Later, hollow aluminum bats were invented. When a player hits the ball with one, the side of the bat gets pushed inward. When it springs back, the ball is flung farther. This is called the trampoline effect.

In composite bats, a strong substance, such as graphite, lines the inside of the aluminum. The material can boost the trampoline effect, increasing the speed and distance the ball flies.

Players using composite bats can hit the ball about 4 miles per hour faster than those using wooden bats. That extra speed means that the pitcher might not be able to get out of the way, risking injury, says baseball science expert David Barker. These bats are banned from college and professional play and some little leagues.

Swim Like a Gold-Medal Winner

Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. A special swimsuit, called the Speedo LZR Racer, helped him do it.

When Phelps swims, he has to fight against drag, the slowing pull of the water. The LZR Racer is designed to reduce drag. It’s made of very smooth fabric that doesn’t have seams. “Seams create little speed bumps on a suit,” says Rick Sharp, who helped design the LZR. Special panels cover the chest and thighs.

In the 2008 Olympics, most swimmers wore the LZR Racer. Over the course of the competition, a staggering 25 world records were broken. The suit was banned from competition two years later.

Get a Boost on the Ice

What if ice skates could help figure skaters jump higher, or hockey players get to the puck faster? That’s what inventor David BIois wondered one day while he was ice-skating. The result: Launch Skates.

Launch Skates have two springs inside each blade holder. One rests under the boot’s toe; the other rests under the heel. When a skater goes into a turn, his or her weight pushes down on the springs. The springs trap the kinetic energy created by the motion, converting it into potential energy. When the skater lifts his foot to skate out of the turn, the springs release their potential energy. This shoots the skater forward.

Blois hopes that Launch Skates will be approved for use in the National Hockey League.

words to know

turbulence irregular motion in air currents

drag the force that slows an object’s movement through a gas or a liquid kinetic energy the energy that an object has as a result of being in motion

potential energy the energy that an object has stored up because of its position

1. Write each of these statements on different pieces of paper: I think they should be banned; I think they should be allowed; I think some should be banned and others should be allowed.

2. Tape each paper to a different corner of the classroom.


Explain to students that at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Olympic swimmers broke 30 world records. That’s the most ever! That year, goggles were allowed in competition for the first time. Ask:

  • Why do you think the introduction of goggles resulted in so many broken records? (Swimmers could see better underwater. That helped them perform better.)
  • Was allowing goggles fair? (Answers will vary.)


  • Review the design of each item of sports gear from the article. After describing them, ask students to stand in the corner that best describes how they feel about these pieces of equipment being allowed in professional sports.
  • After students have made their choices, give them four minutes to pair up with a nearby student and take turns explaining their positions.
  • After students have returned to their seats, ask them what would happen if you wanted them to switch their original position. Would they be able to argue the other side? What could be some arguments for the opposing point of view?