What In The Name Of Walter Peyton Does Ancient Greece Have To Do With the NFL?


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.

Doggedly pursuing my wonderment, I found at least 12 football teams who use Spartans in their name. Not a single one uses Athenians. Stick with me here — think of this as a 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 (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 (see our Rotarian’s, 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 what we are at our best. Now….? Listen yourself and decide.

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