Violence in Sports:
by Rit Nosotro
Today's Gladiator Attitude
Is there a simularity between Roman Coliseum sports and World Cup soccer? Is there a common thread of sociology, mass psychology, and individual desire... that continues to entertain spectators?
Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Yet many of today's sport fans believe they are categorically different from the spectators during the time of the gladiators. Do those watching a modern hockey match, pro wrestling, football, lacrosse, boxing...share attitudes with the ancient Romans? Jerry M. Lewis, a Kent State University sociologist, has a Ph. D. in violence in sports, which he has been studying for 30 years. He writes, “Violence … is a willingness to harm others.”1 How different is today's willingness from that of the Gladiators? More specifically, how attractive is violence to spectators?
In most competitive sports, the purpose is to see who can go the fastest, jump the highest, or farthest. Sports benefit the athlete's health and builds discipline and mental toughness. However, like any other good thing, sports too can be corrupted. In the following paragraphs, three topics will be discussed: the gladiators, football and hockey, and what does the future hold.
When one thinks about violent spectator sports, gladiators come to mind. “A
gladiator is a person, usually a professional combatant, a captive, or a slave,
trained to entertain the public by engaging in mortal combat with another person
or a wild animal in the ancient Roman arena.”2 We may think
that gladiators were treated roughly. Not so. Donald Kyle points out practical
advantages of the gladiator's life:
"The living conditions of gladiators were harsh but, as profitable investments, they perhaps lived better than many commoners in terms of food, housing, and medical attention. New or undisciplined men were shackled and unattended only in the bathroom, but trained gladiators were not always bound, imprisoned, or even confined to barracks."3
In order to survive, a gladiator had to be quick and ruthless. There were numerous types of gladiators. The following are a few interesting ones:
1. Dimachaerus – used two swords.
2. Essedarius – rode on chariots.
3. Laquearius – used a lasso and a lance.
4. Paegniarius – used a club, whip, and shield.
5. Retiarius – had no armor and used a net, trident, and dagger.
6. Secutor – was heavily armored and used a large, sphere-like helmet with a rectangular shield.
The first gladiatorial contest at Rome took place in 264 BC at the funeral of an aristocrat. The man’s son pitted three armed slaves against each other in the Roman cattle market. Around 69 A.D., Emperor Vespasian ordered a Colosseum built. Located in the center of Rome, it would be 620 feet long, 510 feet wide, four stories tall, have 80 entrances, and would be shaped like an oval. The Coliseum was dedicated in 80 AD and “inauguration of the Colosseo lasted for 100 days and nights, during which some 5,000 animals were slaughtered.”4
The structure was exceedingly impressive and could seat 50,000 people. If you wanted to know how big the coliseum was, you could compare it to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse University, which holds about 54,000 and is used for football. Yet, the coliseum was used for war and violence. There several different events you could see. Mock naval battles, land battles reenacted, armed man vs. armed man (2-150 men), armed man vs. animals, armed man vs. unarmed condemned criminals or Christians. In the stands, the mob told whether a gladiator lived or not. Thumps up meant live and thumbs down meant die. These included roman citizens, freemen, knights, senators, women, and children. Emperors also took part in gladiator fights. Emperor Commodus took part in 620 fights. The emperor was the ruler of the empire and had the seat of honor. Also he was the one who sponsored them. This wasn’t the only place the gladiators fought. “In 1988, Museum of London archaeologists unearthed the capital's only Roman amphitheatre in Guildhall Yard. Excavation continued until 1996.”5 The arena was built in AD 70. It could hold 6000 spectators. The population of London at that time was between 20,000 and 30,000. It was abandoned in 4th century.
In Rome, community guilt surrounding the games brought about their abolishment
about 404 "after a monk named Almachius jumped into the arena to stop the
carnage and was killed by a blood-crazed mob"6 However, fights
between animals, chariot races, and immoral theator productions continued. Rome
finally collapsed from its corruption, and the Eastern Empire outlawed the games
Now we turn our attention to modern day sports and look and the violence in them. Recently in ice hockey, for example, someone suffered a concussion after contact with another player. When the teams later play again, revenge was taken on the player by a teammate who sucker punched the opponent, breaking two of his vertebrae. While these actions are illegal, violence still has found acceptance in modern culture. In boxing, a bone-crushing blow to your opponent’s head can lead to permanent brain damage. In football, a collision can result in a paralyzed player. These are by products of legal manuevers. Although injury can result from other sports such as snowboarding or volleyball, it is the "willingnes to harm others" that defines some sport as violent.
Another type of violence in sports is fan violence. Fan violence is usually
considered (by the fans) to be an act of celebration. “People who have
power over the events, often team owners, indirectly influence the amount of
spectator violence by encouraging the factors contributing to violence, in order
to benefit themselves.”1 “Sale of alcohol, encouraging
crowd intensity, creating rivalries, and targeting social groups, are factors
affecting the degree of spectator violence and can be proven to be influenced
by the owner’s actions.”1 Hooliganism started in the
late 1950s and early ‘60s. In Europe, fans of the winning team would walk
around chanting ceaselessly, “We’re Number One!” Then they
might set fires or overturn things from garbage cans to cars. In Budapest, Hungary,
skirmishes with stewards of a club went on for one and a half hours as fans
tried to get into a soccer game for free. During the game, both teams were tied
and fan violence broke out everywhere. One fan left the stadium with life-threatening
injuries. In Banik Ostrava, Czech Republic, at a soccer game, fans fought with
fists, boots, and seats.
Some people wonder, “What does the future hold for sport related violence?”. Technology hints at an answer by increasing the violent quality of the multibillion dollar industry of video gaming. Another example is BattleBots. BattleBots is a sport in which two remote-controlled robots on wheels fight with an objective to gain more points than the other robot. With few rules, the robots are allowed to use almost any type of weapon to gain points. They are broken down into four levels: Lightweights, Middleweights, Heavyweights, and Super Heavyweights. While the sport does not result in real blood, people are involved in designing and vicariously fighting each other through these robots. Does this not reveal a heart bent toward violence?
Many have tried to explain why there is such violence in sports. Lewis says that it is because cultures have too much emphasis on sports. Another writer suggests that violence occures when people sell tickets too cheap which allows in the hooligans. Lewis says, “Young white males are the fundamental rioters,”1 because they are the most daring and reckless. Another reason is alcohol.
Would violence really decrease if ticket prices decreased and alcohol was banned? When the USA tried to ban alcohol in the1920s, it didn’t work as violence increased with organized crime and bootlegging of alcohol. The emphasis on violence in sports is driven by the heart which is "desperately wicked". Whether in the Roman Collisum or in today's Video Arcade, man's lust for violence is manifest to the extend allowed by law, and beyond. Who will be today's Almachius, and sacrifice their life to protest against such violence. Only one who first recognizes that their own decietful heart needs what only Christ can give, "peace, not as the world gives."
Endnotes and Sources:
1Matt Star. Violence abounds in all of sports. Mount Vernon News. September 24, 2004 http://www.mountvernonnews.com/Sports/092404/sports.violence.html (14 Oct. 2004)
2Dictionary.com/gladiator. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000 http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=gladiator (14 Oct. 2004)
3The Gladiator. http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/classics/gladiatr/gladiatr.htm#note%20#1 (14 Oct. 2004)
4The Coliseum, Rome. RomaClick.com. 2000-2004 http://www.romaclick.com/Pages/Rome/Tosee/Rome-guide-coliseum.htm (14 Oct. 2004)
5Cities of Science – London – Where gladiators fought
and died. City of Science. 2004
http://www.citiesofscience.co.uk/go/London/ContentPlace_3018.html (14 Oct. 2004)
6The History and Territorial Evolution of the Christianity, http://religionstatistics.bravehost.com/histen1.htm
Gladiators - Weapons a Roman Gladiator used for Fighting. About, Inc., 2004.
07 Oct. 2004.
Origins. 07 Oct. 2004.
PlanetPapers - Fan Violence: Who's to Blame?. 14 Oct. 2004.
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