I’ve never been one for sports. I tried to be to relate more to my then-distant father. I first tried getting into football. I went to one game of the Atlanta Falcons and some other team in white and left before half-time with my ears in pain. I then tried baseball. I couldn’t see what was happening in the field due to the obstructive nature of stadium’s design. Instead, I was simultaneously entertained and mortified to the sight of an overzealous fan wearing face paint and a man defending his wife fight each other. It was at that moment I had decided that sports simply weren’t for me. From then, I simply never tried to get sports until I was given the task of covering Piedmont sports for Radio One last year. Even then, trying to understand what words for different fields meant and making sense of numbers seemed a lost cause. I simply reported what the sports site read and tried my damnedest to understand what I was saying.
I know that the ancient Romans were quite the sports fans. The difference was that the sports they loved were often lethal. Outside of the iconic gladiator fights, they loved to watch the chariots race. Often, the wheel spokes had spikes on them and if a crash happened, the rider was most certainly crushed to death. The audiences loved it. So much so that the audience members would often bet on little attributes to fighters and charioteers and make educated bets on the contenders. They would measure strength and agility for gladiators and would measure speed and control for riders. Those little descriptive statistics enveloped the Roman enjoying his time at the Colosseum. Who could win? The man able to dance around his opponent and make a thousand strikes with his dagger? Or the man with a large club and only needed one strike to finish the job? This game of imagined calculus still consumes the sports fan, much to my puzzlement.
I had enjoyed The Orator’s story the best, as the context was made fully clear to me. Someone who has a prosthetic leg plays volleyball in spite of her massive hurdle. The Romans, of course, had a very different opinion of amputees. During the reign of Emperor Commodus, he fancied himself a gladiator. This is basically a megalomaniac idiot telling an assembly of yesmen that he wants to be a slave that murders people. The crowds loved the novelty of it – an amputee, hopping around on one leg and holding a lead blade, cut down in a spectacular way by the most powerful man in the world. From this, we can assert that the Romans must have viewed amputees as some kind of joke. But fret not, the Romans of Commodus’ time had become estranged to the Republican values upon which the United States were founded upon.
I wouldn’t know if a sports journalist speaks high on drama and tension. Perhaps it could be akin to an announcer at the gladiator fights talking high on a fighter to rally the crowd. “Behold, Brennus, the man who once crushed legionnaire’s skull! And facing him shall be Elagabalus the Syrian! Can Brennus strike down the flat-footed man of the East? Or will Elagabalus strike too deep for Brennus to handle?”
To be frank, I have no idea what half of the content of the articles means. When I am approached by sports, I know I will be accosted by some kind of foreign language.
I shall conclude with a lesson. Of the Byzantines, the successors to the Romans, and the demes. During the reign of Emperor Justinian, a brawl had lead to a few arrests of high-ranking members of both the Blues and the Greens. Several agitators were rounded up and made to be executed. Two of the ropes snapped and the crowd immediately moved to save the damned men. They were both a Blue and Green. The crowd had brought the two men to a church and the town guard had started a small-scale siege of the building. The next day, Justinian attended the chariot races but was instead met with pleas from the crowd to pardon the fugitives. The Emperor simply turned a deaf ear to the crowd and wanted to just start the races. But then the crowd began to chant “Nika” over and over again. Nika was Greek, meaning victory. The problem was that both Greens AND Blues were chanting this. Justinian took this as a sign to flee to the royal palace. Then the riots began. Constantinople burned, the destruction was immense, and the rioters had found a figure to replace Justinian once the Emperor’s head was on a pike. Justinian made it sound like he was going to parley in the Hippodrome, the chariot-racing stadium.
The crowd was gathered in the center, chanting “nika.” Then the soldiers marched around the entrances and blocked them off. Then they marched inside. The scene would have been something like out of the Old Testament. Men and women clinging to one another and pushing into one another to get away from the spears. The soldiers pushed forward, the shouting grew louder and louder until the noise could only quiet. The sands were drenched in blood, and the horrors of Cannae were played out to the roaring cheer of an invisible audience.