Spectator safety at sporting events seems to be a recurring concern in the public consciousness.
Every so often, reports of an injury in the bleachers at a race or ballgame grabs headlines, followed by demands to enhance safety features at sports venues, met with varying success.
Yet another horror struck the sporting world last month at a Major League Baseball game in Houston. A young girl hit by a foul ball was taken from the stands, but she is expected to recover.
Images of Chicago Cubs batter Albert Almora Jr.’s emotional reaction to the heartbreaking situation helped galvanize demands for additional safety precautions. Almora and other players are calling on the league to fix the foul ball problem once and for all.
One sports organization in Iowa is poised to be a national leader on this front.
Representatives for the Iowa Cubs of Des Moines reportedly plan to extend backstop netting along the entire length of the foul line, possibly by the time next season starts.
The Gazette editorial board applauds the Iowa Cubs, and urges other sports clubs at all levels to use this occasion to scrutinize their own safety measures.
Last year, the Cedar Rapids Kernels extended protective netting to the end of the dugouts, but the team has not yet indicated any plans for another extension.
Live sports matches are family events, with seemingly countless distractions pulling eyes away from the action. Nobody should have to worry about their child leaving the ballpark in an ambulance.
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As Almora aptly put it while speaking to reporters recently, “I don’t think that should ever cross their mind. So whatever the league needs to do to do that, that should be in place.”
Some naysayers argue additional netting will ruin the experience by obstructing more fans’ view of the field. Balanced against fan safety — literally, at times, a matter of life and death — it’s hard to see how that is a serious concern.
Others insist it is spectators’ responsibility to pay close attention and avoid being struck by equipment. This argument ignores the fact that modern athletes are bigger, faster and more powerful than their predecessors a generation ago.
Also note that foul balls have become more common. In the 2017 MLB season, the number of foul balls exceeded the number of balls put in play for the first time since detailed pitch data has been kept, according to a recent analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
Sports evolve over time. Facilities must evolve along with the games.
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