If we were living in Rome in A.D. 72, one of the most popular things to do for entertainment would be to go to the Colosseum. It was an architectural marvel for the time and was ahead of its time in many aspects. The contests of entertainment that took place there are legend…wait for it…ary. (Sorry…HIMYM is on in the background.) Prisoners, criminals, and the poor were all forcefully compelled to fight to the death to satisfy the bloodlust of the citizens. When the ground became too soaked with blood, sand and dirt were thrown over the blood so the bouts could continue. The show must go on.
The attractions at the Colosseum provided a common thread for all social classes. The Emperor sat surrounded by people of influence and wealth in sections of lavish comfort and luxury. The average citizens were much less comfortable, but endured because of the excitement and energy coming from the arena.
Gladiators fought and died, often gruesome and horrible deaths, entertaining the masses. No thought or care was given to them after they were gone. They were society’s unwanted to start with anyway. They got to die a “good death”, and gain a measure of honor at the end.
Man, it sure is a good thing that doesn’t happen anymore…
The NFL is a $9 billion a year business and has been growing by leaps and bounds every year since its inception. A game between the 2 worst teams in the league still gains higher ratings than a playoff game in any other sport. Fans spend enormous amounts of money to attend games. Owners build bigger and better “colosseums” to attract more people and more popular free agent “gladiators.” The biggest difference is who the gladiators are. No longer are they prisoners or poor, although many came from poverty and have criminal records. Now many are wealthy themselves and are celebrated and adored. The fans show up to see the battle. They work themselves to a frenzy, howling at each vicious hit, thrilled at the cracks and pops that can be heard all over the field. These fans that are calling for blood and victory, during the week sell insurance or are home & school presidents. They fear for their own child participating in an activity as violent as this, but they will watch someone else’s child risk life and limb for an admittedly hefty paycheck.
Hey man, you say, nobody dies. Christians aren’t getting eaten by lions…Caesar isn’t giving anyone the thumbs down, right? Really?
Thousands of men have played pro football. I admit it was a dream of mine as well. At the high school and small college level, it is still mostly pure. At the large college and pro level, it is a gladiator mentality. Kill or be killed. Is it a culture the gladiators started or did the supply have to meet the mob’s demand? The players that were once celebrated are all but forgotten, until one shoots himself in the chest. The bodies had to start accumulating for the Emperor to take notice. The lions can’t eat the discarded remains to tidy up.
The gladiators haven’t changed, and neither has the crowd. I still love the battle and would give most anything to go back for any day of it, even knowing what I know now.
“Apparently my hypocrisy knows no bounds.” A great line from Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone. (If you haven’t seen Tombstone, you’re probably too young to be reading this blog.)