A long time ago, gladiators were used as a form of entertainment. Slaves that were physically fit were thrown into the arena after a bit of training and pushed against each other or beasts to entertain the crowd eager to see some action and blood. Nowadays, we have fun watching soccer players and other athletes. Are they the new gladiators?
Much like gladiators, soccer players and other athletes peak in their 20s and they are not expected to continue fighting in their old age. Furthermore, former soccer players sometimes become managers and coaches. It was not uncommon for old gladiators that have either earned their freedom or pleased their masters sufficiently to turn into trainers for the new generation. Club owners, like the masters, can decide whether a player’s career is about to meet a sudden end.
While gladiators often came down with a serious case of being stabbed, flayed, or bashed, soccer players push their bodies to the limit in order to give their top performance, albeit without lethal outcome. However, that means that they often sacrifice their own health and lifespan in order to entertain the crowd, impress the big wigs, and earn some serious money for themselves, their clubs, and their families. Having bad knees, bad back, and brain damage is a common occurrence for these athletes.
While the gladiators fought for their dear life, soccer players are doing it for the money. It is true that, sometimes, it means escaping from their developing region in order to secure some financial backup for themselves and their loved ones in the later years, but the probability of them being incapacitated or dying is incomparably smaller than that of ancient fighters.
Why were the gladiator fights organized in the first place? While many slave owners were bloodthirsty and looked for entertainment to satisfy their cravings, the main reason was often to distract the public from the social, economic, and political issues the country in question was experiencing at the time. The ancient Romans had a phrase for this: panem et circenses, or bread and circuses. If the public is sufficiently entertained, political faux pas and economic ruin often pass without rebellion.
One can’t help but compare this to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The country spent $300 million for the stadium that would host the event. This would normally be fine, as Brazil has a strong soccer culture. However, spending that much money on a sports venue that remains largely unused later while the quarter of the country lives in poverty is, at the very least, suspicious. It is very likely that Brazil, like many other countries, is using sports as a distraction from the problems it faces on a daily basis, including poverty, corruption, nepotism, and crime.
Another consequence of this is that many poor people take to sports as a means of escaping this environment and moving to another place, which would, otherwise, be nigh impossible to do. Think of how many young Americans take to football and basketball while talking about the tough times they had in their early childhood in the projects.
There are numerous similarities between the gladiators of old and the athletes of today. The short-term bursts of performance for long-term consequences are often considered fair trade if you have an uncertain future. The country’s officials often use sporting events to take our attention from occurrences that would leave us outraged, rebellious, or listless. With that in mind, it is easy to see how soccer players remind us of the gladiators. However, they do earn a lot more on average.