Romans. Gladiators and Football

Well its football playoff time here in the U.S. of A. and the screaming, fanatical fans are packing the stadiums to watch two teams bludgeon each other for 60 violent minutes so that one of them can move on to the next round. The ultimate prize?  A Super-Bowl appearance.

The Super Bowl was originally called the NFL Championship game but became the Super Bowl because, well. everything in the 6 0s was just “super.”

Lately, while watching games on TV, I have begun to have visions of Romans in the Coliseum, screaming bloody blue murder, supporting their favorite gladiator.  All we need is Russell Crowe.  Our football spectacle has everything but the sword and trident.  It seems Roman to the core.

It certainly has the violence.  It is not simply a contact sport.  It is a collision sport, statistically more dangerous than boxing or rugby, which is played without pads.  Sure, many sports are dangerous.  Alpine skiing.  Auto racing. Rock climbing.  Even cheerleading.  Football, however, is where the big money is.  BIG money.

As everyone reading this undoubtedly knows, on the aborted Jan. 2 edition of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” Buffalo Bills star safety Damar Hamlin made a clean tackle against a Cincinnati Bengals receiver, and then collapsed seconds later from commotio cordis, or percussion-induced cardiac arrest.

For what seemed like forever doctors worked to restore a heartbeat until an ambulance arrived onto the field to transport Hamlin to a local hospital.  The crowd was stunned silent; the remainder of the game cancelled.

The media was initially horrified, but then came the “feel good” sequel.  Hamlin made an amazing recovery, has been discharged from the hospital and is recuperating at home.

One month and a day before Hamlin came frighteningly close to becoming the second in-game fatality in NFL history, he was ejected from the Amazon Prime Thursday night game for an illegal hit on New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. See it for yourself on YouTube. Hamlin blasted Meyers helmet-to-helmet, preventing a touchdown catch in the end zone.

Hamlin was disqualified from the remainder of the game for “unnecessary roughness.” This is all part of the illusion of “making the game safer” marketed by the owners and the NFL.  Like it or not however, football is deadly.  It was designed to be deadly.

In Hamlin’s first play he hit his opponent helmet to helmet which is now forbidden by “safety” rules. He was ejected from the game.  New rules require tackles to be basically “heads up.”  In the subsequent near-fatal incident this is exactly what Hamlin did, dutifully following the recently emphasized “heads up” tackling doctrine (which is already almost always impossible to execute at game speed). The result left him unconscious on the field, without a pulse, seconds or minutes from death.

Commotio cordis is not an everyday occurrence in football, but it happens, and it was bound to play out sooner or later, in an NFL prime-time game. But the manufacturers of commercial solutions to football violence — such as better helmets, are really selling something which is no more effective than better mousetraps.  The helmet makers and owners want us to focus on only one aspect of football harm.


Yet “there have been at least a dozen football deaths, below the professional level, from chest-trauma cardiac events.  Additionally, there is catastrophic neurological injury, resulting in permanent neurological injury or death. The mechanism is most often a forced hyperflexion neck injury, as occurs when ‘spear tackling’. The mean incidence of catastrophic neurological injury over the past 30 years has been approximately 0.5 per 100,000 participants at high school level and 1.5 per 100,000 at the collegiate level. This incidence has decreased significantly when compared with the incidence in the early 1970s. This decrease in the incidence of catastrophic injury is felt to be the result of changes in the rules in the mid-1970s that prohibited the use of the head as the initial contact point when blocking and tackling.”

You know.  Like Hamlin did against the Pats – he was ejected but saved a touchdown.

During 2005–2014, a total of 28 traumatic brain and spinal cord injury deaths in high school and college football were identified (2.8 deaths per year). The most common playing positions of those fatally injured were running back and linebacker. Approximately 18% of identified high school brain injury deaths were preceded by an earlier concussion, which might have led to second impact syndrome.

No doubt the makers of hit-sensor helmets (given to high school athletes for unethical experimentation while continuing development on crash dummies) are already beginning to start development of a better protective pad for the precordium (the area in front of the heart). Players are already armored up the wazoo, and the only thing that has accomplished is to give them a false sense of being bulletproof.

Football is deadly.  Rules requiring geometrically impossible positioning of heads on tackles, on pain of penalty or disqualification or fine or suspension are useless.  Hamlin purposely broke the rule to save a touchdown.  Then he got thrown out.  So what?  I’m sure he got handshakes in the club house.   Several games later he played by the rules and went to the hospital with cardiac arrest.

The NFL owner’s efforts to make football “safer” has become media necessary in the face of the effects of getting hit repeatedly in the head on retired players, many old or gone before their time.  Not to mention the spinal injuries and paralysis we read nothing about.

Football is as violent as you can get without swords and tridents.  It is as American as apple pie (nobody else plays it) and is part and parcel to our culture as gladiator contests were to the screaming Romans.

“During 2005–2014, a total of 28 deaths (2.8 deaths per year) from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries occurred among high school (24 deaths) and college football players (four deaths) combined. Most deaths occurred during competitions and resulted from tackling or being tackled. All four of the college deaths and 14 (58%) of the 24 high school deaths occurred during the last 5 years (2010–2014) of the 10-year study period.”

Among the 24 high school fatalities, 20 (83%) occurred during a game and during the regular season; 17 (71%) involved tackling or being tackled. Among the four college fatalities, two occurred during a regular season game, and two occurred during spring football.

This week The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver took a hard hit to the neck during the final minutes of the playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. Gage tried to get up but couldn’t, leading to the medical staff taking the field and checking in on him. They stayed on a field for a few minutes before taking Gage off the field in a gurney.

He was seriously injured during the final minutes of the final game of the season at a time Tampa was trailing 31 – 6 with no hope of winning.  He suffered a serious neck injury and concussion.  Simply unnecessary.

Football is a deadly as team sports gets.  Which is probably why we are so hooked on it.

I watch.  Not a fanatic.  But I watch.

But I’m glad my grandson doesn’t play football.


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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1 Response to Romans. Gladiators and Football

  1. beetleypete says:

    I have compared all big-money team sports to the Roman arenas too. I’m sure if they could get away with it, promoters would love to recreate the real gladiatorical combats in modern times; with those swords and tridents, and actual killing on the field. Give them the permission, and they would be throwing prisoners to the wild beasts to entertain the crowds during the intermission.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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