U.S. sports going the way of the gladiators?
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel gets attention after a hit Sunday, and a wreck takes out 25 cars at the Good Sam 500 in Alabama.
October 8th, 2012
03:14 PM ET

U.S. sports going the way of the gladiators?

Are American sports fans turning into the citizens of ancient Rome, turning up to sports events to see mayhem akin to gladiators fighting for their very lives?

Stars in two of the country's most prominent sports were asking those kinds of questions Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., arguably the sport’s most popular personality in NASCAR racing, said he wonders if fans are "bloodthirsty."

If they watch races to see what transpired at the end of Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt said they are.

And he’s had enough.

Earnhardt was part of a 25-car pileup at speeds of 200 mph on the final lap of Sunday’s Good Sam 500 that left the Alabama track looking like a junkyard.

"It's not safe. Wrecking like that, it's ridiculous. It's bloodthirsty if that's what people want,” Earnhardt said afterward, according to news reports, including SI.com.

"If this is what we did every week, I wouldn't be doing it. I'd find another job," Earnhardt said.

This isn’t what NASCAR does every week, but the drivers face what they call “The Big One,” the massive wrecks at the speedways in Talladega and Daytona Beach, Florida, four times a year.

“I don't even want to go to Daytona and Talladega next year, but I ain't got much choice,” Earnhardt said. He has to run the sport’s marquee tracks to run for a championship.

But Earnhardt knows well the dangers of these tracks and the consequences of accidents on them. His father, seven-time Sprint Cup series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., was killed in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

NASCAR race cars use restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona. The plates restrict airflow into the engines, cutting speeds but also evening out advantages that might be gained from tweaking the engine. The result is the cars run in big packs. Advantage is gained pairing up with other drivers as cars running tightly together can go faster than one running alone.

But one slight miscue can bring mayhem. That’s what happened Sunday.

"I just screwed up," said Tony Stewart, who was leading the race when he moved down the track slightly to block a run by Michael Waltrip, who was being pushed by Casey Mears.

"I turned down across, I think it was Michael, and crashed the whole field. It was my fault blocking to try to stay where I was at. So I take 100% of the blame," Stewart said, according to NASCAR.com.

But Earnhardt wasn’t blaming his fellow driver.

"The way we are going ain't the right direction," Earnhardt said, according to Autoweek. "There are plenty of engineers out there. I'm just a driver. There are plenty of smart people out there that can figure something out where, when one guy gets in trouble, we don't have 30 cars tore up at the expense of it.

"I don't care what anybody says. For the good of the sport - I mean it's good for the here and now and it will get people talking today - but for the long run that is not going to help the sport the way that race ended and the way the racing is. It's not going to be productive for years to come,” Earnhardt said.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Missouri, on Sunday, Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Winston was making the comparison to ancient Rome after the team's starting quarterback, Matt Cassel, who's been enduring a poor season for the Chiefs (1-4), was knocked from the game.

In the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, Cassell grabbed a snap and looked downfield for a receiver when the Ravens' Haloti Ngata hammered him. He stayed down on the ground and eventually left the game with a concussion. As medical staff tended to Cassel, backup quarterback Brady Quinn began warming up. Cassel walked off the field, and as Quinn entered, the fans in Kansas City began to cheer - but not for Quinn.

They were happy to see Cassel off the field and someone new in. At the time nobody knew how injured Cassel was - whether he had a concussion - which has been a hotly debated safety issue in the NFL.

More former NFL players join concussion lawsuits

That left Winston incensed.

"We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We are not gladiators. This is not the Roman Colosseum," Winston told reporters after the game.

"When you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel - it's sickening," said Winston, a seven-year veteran from the University of Miami.

"If you are one of those people, one of those people that were out there cheering or even smiled when he got knocked out, I just want to let you know, and I want everybody to know that I think it's sickening and disgusting. We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Colosseum. This is a game," Winston said.

"We have a lot of problems as a society if people think that's OK."

soundoff (342 Responses)
  1. Bob Knippel

    Hoping to see someone hurt is a little over the edge, but some of these sports have an aspect which can be somewhat rough, too, which is something that defines the sport. Well paid sports figures ought to know the risks inherent to their sports well enough to weigh those risks against their reasons to want to participate in those sports prior to doing so. Everybody makes their own choices, sports figures included.

    October 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. buffalo

    Are you kidding? It always has been about watching someone get hurt or seriously injured. It's just that the thin candy coating has fallen off.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. a slozomby

    because anyone really wants to watch people turn left for 4 hours.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. LostOnYou?

    Apparently we're not only getting bloodthirsty, but stupider too. Amazing how many posters turned this into an issue of choice (choosing to be on the field, track) rather than the actual point the author was trying to make (and did so quite well).

    October 8, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. a slozomby

    ""We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We are not gladiators. This is not the Roman Colosseum," Winston told reporters after the game." apparently he is not aware that there were also chariot races in the Colosseum.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • RTK MD

      a slozomby:
      (minor point) What is your source for the assertion that there were chariot races in the Roman Colosseum? I really don't think it was big enough for that. Those were done in a Circus or hippodrome, like the Circus Maximus in Rome. The Colosseum fielded gladiators, mock naval battles, and animal "hunts," and of course executions.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sea Snake

    Gee whiz ! 14 went for a ride...

    October 8, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Shmeckell

    I don't know who wrote this, but it doesn't sound like they watch nascar or football.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ...

    Maybe we should just get rid of some of the more aggressive sports. We have too many as it is. Oh wait, too much money involved. And some people couldn't live without them. The thought was probably in the back of your minds. There I said it. Here comes the flaming.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • rtbrno65

      No flames yet. I guess your comment didn't have the impact that you thought it would have.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chalupa

    I think it's important to note that Rome collapsed as the gladiators became more violent. probably another indicator of a decaying society.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    I seriously doubt that the fans were cheering for Cassel being out of the game. Has the author of this story ever actually been to a game where a player is laying on the ground, injured? The stadium falls quiet.

    Fans were cheering that Cassel was able to walk off the field. They were cheering not because he was hurt, but because he was, though injured, apparently okay enough to not have to be taken out in an ambulance.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Not having seen the game, I cannot say for certain, but that is how we always did things; cheered for the fallen player, in support that he *is* able to walk off the field of his own volition.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mark

    Whining little pansies the lot. the sports in of themselves are brutal and violent and they get their panties in a bunch when the fans cheer it? Dot the letters FO have any meaning to you people?

    October 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. VL

    One of the most popular books of all time is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in 1788 by Edward Gibbon. The book sets forth five basic reasons why great civilizations wither and die, ONE of which is:
    The mad craze for pleasure sports becoming every year more exciting, more brutal, more immoral.
    Our "civilization" is about a notch and a half from the bottom.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. A Nomeite

    wait – Nascar...is that where a bunch of cars drive around in circles? Football .. is that where a bunch of overweight guys pile up on top of one another? Snore. Who'd go to see THAT?

    October 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Po the Panda(From Kung Fu Panda)

      enough people and companies to sponsor it to turn them into a multibillion dollar franchise

      October 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Randy Sturgill

    Historically, America is tracking the history of the Roman Republic. We began as a small remote colony. We threw off a king. We setup a democracy. Gradually we bankrupted the middle class (plebs) while the wealthy (patricians) increased in wealth. This resulted in an urbanization where a large percentage of the population depended on government assistance (grain dole) and the eventual loss of the democracy – replaced by the Imperial system.

    Morally and Ethically we are tracking Rome in REVERSE. Rome started as a pagan nation and progressed through its brutal pagan period into a Christian era where it ended. America started as a Christian nation and has progressed and is morphing into a nation with a pagan morale. Rome started with gladiators and eventually got rid of them when Christianity came to power. America started without them due to its Christian heritage and will be moving MORE to that form of entertainment as we LOSE our Christian values.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Someone

      During our so-caled "moral" time, we have had slaves, people discriminated against because of religon or skin color, and used some extremely brutal weapons of war (flame throwers, napalm and nuclear bombs). To say we have become less moral as we have strayed from Christianity is strectching it and I am getting tired of it. Overall, as I have gone through life, I'd rather trust a non-Christian than many of the fundamentalist types I have run into.

      It may be interesting to note that most of NASCAR is in Southern, Bible belt states......

      October 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • RTK MD

      Randy Sturgill makes a very peculiar comparison/contrast between Rome and America. With so much to question, I'll just make one point. The drift away from religion in America is really the opposite of the drift toward paganism. There is no evidence of increased adoption of mythology and/or the worship of multiple gods. Rather, the increasing understanding of science in most developed countries seems to be making people less inclined to look to the supernatural to explain their world.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ben

    Big difference: Most gladiators were slaves. Atheletes make millions and are super stars.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • VL

      I think focusing on spirituality rather than Christianity is more to the point. Historians say civilizations and empires tend to progress through this sequence:
      • from bondage to spiritual faith
      • from spiritual faith to great courage
      • from courage to liberty
      • from liberty to abundance
      • from abundance to selfishness
      • from selfishness to complacency
      • from complacency to apathy
      • from apathy to dependence
      • from dependence back again to bondage
      I think we are into the second from the bottom phase.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
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