2017-10-11 / Editorial

GLADIATORS

Michael N. Searles

Many of us have seen gladiators in movies or have an idea of what they did. A gladiator was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals. Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their lives and their legal and social standing by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death. Gladiators were trained as modern athletes are trained today. They were provided with good food and received the best medical treatment. They often trained for hours each day and developed the skills and techniques needed to use a variety of weapons. While in the latter years, free men trained as gladiators, most were slaves or condemned criminals. Most gladiators had no citizenship rights, and those who were slaves and prisoners of war had no rights at all. Roman gladiators were entertainers prepared by a professional trainer and sponsored by a munerarius usually of a high status family with independent means of income.

We love sports and we love to be entertained by well-trained athletes on the “field of battle.” We expect those athletes to compete, do their best, and win. Sports gives the illusion of battle, war, victory and defeat without the consequences of death. We do not want our athletes to be politicians, scholars, philosophers, or humanitarians; we want them to be gladiators. The recent actions on the part of some athletes “to take a knee” during the playing of the national anthem has generated anger, hostility, and disquietude. Last year, Colin Kaepernick as a member of the San Francisco Forty-Niners decided to take a stand against police brutality and racial inequality by sitting during the national anthem. Later, he expressed racial concern by taking a knee rather than sitting. The immediate reaction was to place on him the Mark of Cain so no team would have him on its payroll. The issue continued to simmer and boil over as various individuals and organizations demanded that Kaepernick be hired by an NFL team. President Trump’s comments that anyone who “takes a knee” during the national anthem should be fired added fuel to the fire. Reactions to Trump’s comments inspired professional sports athletes, teams, and organizations to refuse to yield to the President. Little league, middle school, high school, college, and professional teams across the country “took a knee” to highlight racial discrimination and protest President Trump’s denunciations. President Trump has equated taking a knee with disrespect to the country and the flag. The bended knee in the past has symbolized respect and during the Civil Rights Movement when a leader of a march stopped and went down on one knee the words uttered were, “Let us pray.”

There is another factor that bears repeating. Roman gladiators did not have the rights of citizenship and therefore were not able to vote, stand for public office, make legal contracts, or hold property. So, gladiators could and did not speak on the issues of the day. Many today have similar feelings about our modern day sports gladiators. Professional athletes are seen as one dimensional entertainers who are expected to play their sport and keep their mouths shut. Those who speak up have their patriotism questioned and their livelihoods threatened. The price of fame and fortune in the sports arena apparently is to wear societal blinders, be compliant and thankful for their good fortune.

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