The American Gladiators

For the average, red-blooded American sports is something that is impossible to ignore. Football, especially, is something the average American can’t help but be widely conscious of, even if he finds himself quarantined Wuhan-style. Whether your local group of rowdy, party-planning friends begs for your attendance at their weekly get together or your coworker Walter over the water cooler hunts for an easy conversation starter, you will know about the football game coming up—because as long as there are two Americans left on this earth, somebody is going to remind someone of football. And thank God for this. Like all sports, football gets the daily devil out of the system, brings together friends and family, and—most importantly—gives patriots an excuse to drink alcohol, sing the national anthem with impunity and praise God for listening to their prayers and leading their team to victory.

Now, why does football inspire junk like social interaction, national identity and its relationship with religious traditions? Well, it’s because those things form the holy trinity of what makes sports really, really old. Surprisingly, in the human experience there are some things which never truly change, whether it be your neighborhood demagogue trying to subvert the democracy (I’m looking at you, Syracuse) or the obligatory, crudely etched graffiti of a penis on the side of a public building (Pompeii graffiti, look it up!). Sports was, is, and always shall be a ‘been there, done that’ to humanity. 

Let’s take the gladiators for example. They’re ripped, skilled, heroic and they don’t back down from a fight. They have owners and managers, they draw crowds in the millions and they were like celebrities in their day—as adored back then as we look back in awe of their sport today. Now, while their sport was very dangerous, in truth gladiators were not being killed left and right. Rather, gladiators were slaves, property to be protected and invested in. The vast majority of all matches ended with everyone going back home to fight another day because the people who run the show, the owners, want a return on their investment. 

This sport is archaic and barbaric, yet it adheres to a consumer base, property management, insurance, investment, and returns—qualities intrinsic in our modern free market! Take another look at football. Look at owners like Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones spending millions on a player whom they bought at a draft (an event not at all like a slave auction!) to garner a nationwide audience to tune in every Sunday for some violence for the sake of seeing who is the best of the best. Yes, all sports have their systemic and game-like similarities, but could it also be that there is really nothing new under the sun?

I kid the systemic ugliness inherent to all sports. Today all the players are millionaires; they have millions of loyal twitter followers and they get by with modern medicine. While living in a cramped slave’s quarters, they don’t have to worry about accidentally cutting their hand on a gladius. They don’t have to worry about triggering a spread of gangrene and needing an amputation, which would leave them as lowly beggars on the streets of Carthage in the second century A.D.

The one lesson I want every loyal Tower reader to take away from this article is that you should enjoy modern sports, but you should never take the game too seriously. A prime example of taking sports too seriously is Kleomedes of Astypalia. He was a boxer in ancient Greece who used dirty tricks and would routinely cheat in order to win. After Kleomedes killed an opponent during the Olympics, for which he was disqualified, he—like the unscrupulous try-hard that he was—resorted to wrath and vengeance by kicking down the central pillar of an elementary school in his hometown, thus killing every child inside… Talk about a sore loser. Naturally, the town tried to stone him. However, Kleomedes escaped the mob by hopping into a chest and disappearing forever, never to be seen or heard from again. The townspeople consult the Oracle of the Pythian Apollo for answers, and she said that, in truth, Kleomedes was a god-ordained hero and he must be immediately deified, for there will never again be another hero like him! 

I look at the story of Kleomedes of Astypalia, and in a way I see all of our sports in one small microcosm. People will religiously associate players, bring together with their home community and associate their city with this winner take all competition of brute skill. Sports will always have divas who for some reason will cheat to win and become hated in the end only to be glorified, whether good or evil, for the unparalleled mark they left on this earth (i.e. Tom Brady). As for the preservation of your local elementary school, always remember that the games will have winners and losers but, as sure as the coming Sunday or in the strength of the United States, football as a sport will long endure after our lowly lives.   

Enjoy Superbowl LIV!      

Photo by RickyBennison – This file has been extracted from another file: Football play from scrimmage.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81249334

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