What's Ancient Greece Got To Do With Football?

Baseball has always been “America’s game.” Although football has begun challenging for the title. Because our democracy has its roots in ancient Greece, sports fans might wonder what the Greeks would have thought about this. OK, most sports fans could care a flying fig. But somehow I do.

Doggedly pursuing my wonderment, I found at least 12 football teams who use The Spartans in their name. Not a single one uses The Athenians. Stick with me here — think of this as your theme for your next tailgate party. The ancient Greek city of Sparta was the warrior state; Athens the philosophy state. Get the point? I mean, what team wants to grunt their way up to the line of scrimmage as philosophers?

When I mentioned this in my old history classes, the students wondered too. About their teacher! That’s when I would remind them, “Aha, but this is why we study history….” “What, to find out what dead Greeks think about this year’s season…!” Then came my coupe de grace’: “No, to find out how our yesterdays really do help shape our todays…”

The dots back in 4th century BC Sparta and Athens don’t exactly connect directly to 21st century America, but the connection is there. And connections are what studying history is mostly all about. The way America has divided itself between Spartan and Athenian thought really started from the get-go. Part of us has always thrilled to the warrior code to-the-victor-go-the-spoils (see our Wild West, Capitalism, Wall Street hedge fund managers, and the-least-government-is-the-best-government for details). Our other self resonates with the philosophy code preserving-the-general-welfare (see our Rotarians, TR’s anti-trust campaigns, FDR’s social security programs, LBJ’s medicare programs, MLK’s social justice crusade for details).

Two harmony lines running through the symphony that is our great nation. Like Sparta and Athens, they may be sounding different keys; but in the hands of a master conductor, the blending of the two is part of what the Declaration of Independence saying. Which makes me wonder: do you think we’ll ever see a team out there with Athenians on their uniforms…?

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  • After having been a sports information director in the Big Ten and Pac-10 Conferences, I recognize how accurately Spartans defines the violence that is inherent in college football as Jack describes it. Even though I am a Greek-American of Spartan heritage, I urge that American culture transform itself away from football and Spartan violence, and go the way of Athens. Higher Education should drop football. - George Beres in Eugene, Oregon

  • Ditto on what 'elgreco' has said above ....

  • In reply to Geezer:

    Ditto the ditto! The price of sports violence is coming home to medical roost these days. This fixation with violence reminds me of Oscar Wilde: "America is the only nation that went from barbarous to violence without ever passing through civilization.." Was he right...?

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