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. Mike

    II have a quote from George Bernard Shaw, the great Irish playwright: " A society can become accustomed to any atrocity."
    An atrocity can be defined as the disintegration, or destruction of an individual, or aggregate of individual's (team, spectators, nation,etc.) dignity and integrity. If you are a participant in this erosion, it is very difficult to see the writing on the wall. It takes a few courageous individuals to call it for what it is. They risk derision and exclusion . If no one speaks up, we could be in hell and think it paradise.

    October 13, 2012 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mad Cow

    I would watch a compilation of race car wrecks, but would never sit and watch a whole race just to see the crash at the end.

    October 13, 2012 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  3. Bill

    Yes....sad to say many many people are bloodthirsty. When at work or at home with a social gathering, people do youtube and google searches for videos showing their bloodthirsty side....laughing at what transpires. I witness it daily and it makes me sad.

    October 13, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Ok. Let me get this straight. If I'm watching a race and they don't crash, I'm just a fan of NASCAR. But if I'm watching a race and they crash because they don't know how to drive, I'm "bloodthirsty". Seriously? Get over your self Dale. It's the nature of your sport, if you haven't already figured that out.

      October 16, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. rally2xs

    I've lost interest in NASCAR because it's become the routine that the winner is simply the guy that is lucky enough to get thru the big wreck. If I go to a race, I want to see racing, and wrecks, for me, are as welcome as the commercials interrupting the shows on TV (I don't watch commercial TV dramas, either – watch news shows (don't care about the interruptions) or HBO / Showtime / Cinemax / Starz where there are no commercials.) Favorite racing is World of Outlaws that MOSTLY keeps the dirty side down, and most anything else that is more racing and less wrecking.

    October 14, 2012 at 3:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bryan Thompson

    If the coaches had more brains ... and guts to take out players who are playing badly, the fans wouldn't think to cheer when what should happen does, the ineffective player gets removed. And the fans ARE the bosses, without their ticket, tshirt, jacket, parking money, etc, etc these people wouldn't have jobs!

    October 14, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. BoFo

    Excuse my cynicism, but this article is a big joke. Sports is all about money, celebrity and entertainment of the masses.
    I don't have sympathy for any one who gets in, sees what it's all about, and stays in. In our dumbed-down culture, nothing is going to change but it will only get worse.

    October 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Battledrone

      And to just add to that. Think about it. X race car driver gets into a car going 200mph a moderate adrenaline junky now he knows the risks if he crashes he knew the risks he knows it everytime he gets in the car..Let us remember that where does the sickness really come from? Is it the driver (adrenaline junky) or the what! Human nature has a delicate balance between sanity and insanity at any given point in time. Anyone on here saying they haver never watched and watched again a brutal wreck , attack is a liar.. Things have not changed ever never will I myself stopped watching Nascar eons ago. Sure I check the stats and see who is up and coming but look at Formula one... It took the life of one man to change the sport but in some ways it really isn't racing anymore if a car is assisted? do you see that it is a "No win scenario" any point at all is pointless. The only point one could make is ratings go up during crashes but I have not seen any numbers and even if I did I would challenge those stats... Help us all

      October 16, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  7. Fritz Hohenheim

    That's what I've been saying for a while. Nobody watches Nascar to see a bunch of cars driving around in circles unless he has brain damage. They all watch for the tiny chance to see a spectacular crash.

    October 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Battledrone

      And once they changed Nascar to fake cars with nothing more than bodies call Ford or Chevrolet or Toyota or Dodge its became and epic joke... AT one time Nascar was raced with real cars the ones you coudl buy at a Dealer sure they souped them up more but at least it was racing... Wach the very old footage amazes me how the wrecks have gotten worse..
      not better.. And it is not the speed the fastest Nascars are not the current day toys we see

      October 16, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. TeamChaos

    It seems like they were cheering for Jamal Charles, the further he ran the louder the fans got.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. Not only in sports but also in every other avenue

    Unfortunately it is not just sports were many Americans are becoming "blood thirsty spectators". Politics too has become another avenue for being blood thirsty rathern than looking for a sound debate. Never in the history of America has she become so devided, and I do blame the spectators rather than the politicians themselves, with the media and political advisers playing the dirty role of the gladiator slave-owner.
    Many Americans (since the Bush Administration times) have become overwehelmly favoring war and intervention, rather than seeking Amiable solutions with others. They seeked confrontation with Iraq until the media lost interest in it. Some politicians are playing the card now with regard to Iran, as well as China and Russia, to please the blood thirsty spectators who find their need of Adrinalin by watching news and right wing talk shows.

    October 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. think

    sports are strange if it does not involve betting it is nothing. you cannot be a part of game unless you are in the game. i bet the us economic game is lost. we will see a large change in all of the players, when you get hurt.

    October 17, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. Louis Lesosky

    Gladiaters of all pro sport flying thousands of planes advertising agents of corperations distracting masses creatating jobs for miners,smelter operators,foremen,accounts,bankers killing air water and me and themselves too!

    January 9, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
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