Cloverdale Library’s next Philosophers’ Café will tackle the question of why we enjoy professional sporting events.

Cloverdale Library’s next Philosophers’ Café will tackle the question of why we enjoy professional sporting events.

Modern day gladiators: why we’re still interested in sports

Cloverdale Library’s next Philosophers’ Cafe will tackle the question of why we enjoy professional sporting events

The SFU Philosophers’ Café series is off to a great start at Cloverdale Library. The next café will be held Thursday, April 20 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., moderated by Sukhmani Gill.

  • Why do we enjoy professional sporting events? Sukhmani Gill, Thursday, Apr. 20 @ 7 p.m.
  • How has Easter been secularized? Abbie Boer, Monday, May 8 @ 1 p.m.
  • What is cultural appropriation? Sukhmani Gill, Monday, June 5 @ 1 p.m.

This week’s topic is why do we enjoy professional sporting events, along with the further question: are they the modern-day gladiator spectacle?

Before getting to the gladiator part, I can’t help but notice the term “professional.” Is there a difference between why we enjoy (or do not enjoy) professional sporting events in comparison to amateur sporting events?

Perhaps there is. One of my nephews has autism. He is also an amazing track and field athlete. A couple of years ago, I saw him compete at the Specials Olympics at UBC. Of course, I know him, so that makes a difference.  But it was everything else too — all the competitions, competitors and spectators — that made it a great weekend for everyone.

Yes, winning was important and competition had its place, but there were different categories, different ways to finish. No one seemed left out. It was so much fun!

The Olympic games, which was once only open to amateurs, can now have professional athletes compete as well—athletes who often benefit financially from corporate sponsors and endorsement deals.

And given the fact that professional athletes often seem to get a celebrity pass on some serious issues, it is no wonder that some people dislike professional sports.

Perhaps it is not the athletes themselves who garner the distain but the entire culture of money, fame, and entertainment they are part of.

On the other hand, if one looks at any highlight reel of great plays or great moments in sport, and the amazing feats of physical agility, strength or endurance shown, then it is not hard to imagine why many would not want to pay attention to anything else. Big fans for big sporting events.

Yes, we like our teams. We’re also big fans of individual sports stars – so much so that we enrich them, their managers and team owners quite a lot. But how much is quite a lot?

Ask yourself this question:  who do you think is the highest paid athlete of all time?  Is it Tiger Woods?  Alex Rodriguez? Cristiano Ronaldo? Kobe Bryant?

According to Forbes magazine in 2016, it was Michael Jordan. Five athletes in total have hit the $1 billion mark in their lifetime, and Jordan tops the list at $1.7 billion earned (in salary plus endorsements). He still earns more annually than any other active NBA player.

But is this really true?  Consider not the gladiator, but the charioteer.  According to Peter T. Struck, a professor of Classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, in ancient Rome the Circus Maximus, “the beating heart at the center of the empire,” would seat a quarter of a million people for weekly chariot races. Large businesses invested in the teams (the Reds, Blues, Whites and Greens) and after “seven savage laps, those who managed not to be upended or killed and finish in the top three took home prizes.”

All this happened while fans would “hurl violent enthusiasm, as well as lead curse amulets punctured with nails.”

The highest paid athlete of all time was “a Lusitanian Spaniard named Gaius Appuleius Diocles.” When he retired at age 42, his chariot winnings brought him the “staggering sum of 35,863,120 sesterces.” That was the equivalent of paying “all the ordinary soldiers of the Roman Army at the height of its imperial reach for a fifth of a year.”

Peter Struck works that out to equal about $15 billion in today’s currency: far more than any of our athletes today.

So there is nothing new about our love or fascination with sports.  Or the amount we will pay our best athletes.

Want your say on this topic?  Want to hear what others have to say?  Join us at Cloverdale Library on April 20 at 7 p.m.  Just don’t bring a curse amulet punctured with nails. We are a public library, after all.

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Information Services Librarian Paul MacDonell writes on the people and events of Cloverdale Library.