The evolution of sports gear

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s short shorts may look funny to us today and some guys wouldn’t be caught playing in them, but back then they were perfectly normal. It’s fascinating to look back at how we used to play the games we love, and the equipment legendary athletes used. How did hockey goalies avoid getting hit in the face before they had masks? How are improved football helmets designed to protect the players? And will we ever see basketball players in those short shorts again? The answer to this last one is probably not, but let’s take a look at then and now:

Basketball shoes

basketball shoes
Images taken from Wikimedia Commons and LeBron James’ Facebook page

Once upon a time, one shoe owned the game: Chuck Taylor All Stars. They were THE shoe through the 1970s, but nowadays, signature shoes rule the game. From Carmelo Anthony’s Jordan collection, to LeBron and Kevin Durant’s Nike shoes. The market is flooded with basketball sneakers, each flashier than the one before.

Soccer Cleats, also known as football boots


From Wikimedia Commons, user: Pipesteban

The first recorded image of soccer cleats, otherwise known as football boots, is from the 19th century. Needless to say, their look has changed over the last 200 years. From plain leather boots that gave some support to the ankle to flashy, sleek, more flexible cleats worn by today’s biggest stars. With better technology, soccer players are now able to design cleats to their specific needs, and the shoes are made for any weather condition.

Baseball gloves


baseball glove then and now
Images from Wikimedia Commons

It wasn’t until 1875 that baseball players started wearing gloves. Before then, it was seen as a sign of weakness. It is AG Spalding who is often credited with helping to end the stigma that wearing a glove meant you weren’t manly enough, and since then, the glove has evolved into what we know today. First came the added padding and the webbing between the fingers, then the webbing was changed to straps. Now, nearly 150 years later, the glove is an iconic piece of sporting equipment.

Football helmets

football helmets then and now
Image of original football helmet from Wikimedia Commons

As science improves, we are made more and more aware of the importance of good football helmets to protect the players and their brains. But when the sport first came about, the helmets weren’t nearly as protective. In the 1920s they were made of soft leather, by the 30s they improved to hard leather, in the 50s plastic helmets with padding and a bar were introduced. In the 1970s the first energy absorbing helmets were used. Now, single bar helmets are banned from use, and there are even chin straps that can help identify head injuries. Needless today, their design is based on science and the best protection possible.

Goalie pads

hockey goalies then and now
There was a time when hockey goalies stepped onto the ice with barely any padding, and no face protection. They barely had any chest and shoulder protection and they used the same sticks as skaters. Now, goalies are covered from head to toe, with stronger, lighter and waterproof padding on their legs, arms and shoulders, as well as chest protectors. They also have the most creative masks.

Basketball shorts


basketball shorts then and now
Image on the left taken from Pinterest

We all remember the short shorts of the 1970s. Now, we cringe at the site of them, in pictures and during throwback nights. But once, they were the norm. Pale legs and all. Instead, we’ve gotten used to the oversized shorts, that fall below the knees, with compression shorts underneath.

Tennis rackets


tennis rackets then and now
Image on the left taken from Wikimedia Commons

From wood to laminated steel. Tennis rackets have undergone some serious changes over the years. The rackets were first made of solid wood, in 1947 the first laminated wood racket was introduced, and the first steel racket was first used in 1968. Then came the oversized racks, changing the spacing of the strings and, in 2017, rackets are still changing and evolving as technology improves.

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