Athletic Ethics and Morality
Athletics Ethics and Morality in Classical and Modern Times
Thousands of years separate Classic times from modern ones. One would think that those thousands of years would dramatically change the face of major society and the values that go with it. When looking at the field of sports, however, the status of athletes and all the rewards which accompany that status have remained strikingly similar. When comparing Ancient Greek and Roman athletes to our modern day athletic superstars, one can see how thousands of generations have solidified the athletic mythos rather than evolving it into a completely different institution. The prizes of athletic prominence have varied with the changing technology of society, but the internal moral structure centered around popular athletics and the athletes who enchant us, have remained the same, and so have the pressures of maintaining one’s popularity by continuing to outperform all other opponents.
Ancient Greek and Roman societies obsessed over professional athletes, just as modern society does today. To be able to play a sport professionally meant that you were part of an elite group who had mastered an art. Great honor and fame came with athletic success, “In Greece the most illustrious of both sexes thought it honorable to exercise themselves in exhibitions of the theatre, and even to appear in athletic games,” (Murphy v). In Aelianus Tacticus’ Varia Historia, the Ancient Roman Philosopher told moral tales of the lives of athletes. He made clear society’s view that these gods among men must have lived an honorable yet venerated life. Tacticus was also a very important military writer, therefore thought athletes an important part of a society’s culture because they were also in the physical form warriors.
In our modern society, this fame continues to follow present athletes. Although some of the honor involved has been lost in translation, the athletes of today still serve as examples of the perfect human form. Today, they are they faces of countless merchandising campaigns which aim to use their popularity and athletic achievements to sell a variety of products, from athletic gear to sports drinks and video games. Their expertise of their sport is now used to promise a boost in performance in modern day amateurs and hopefuls. This in turn, only strengthens their popularity, making them household names and familiar to even those individuals who do not follow the sport they play. The athlete has continued to be a celebrity.
These celebrities have been lavished with gifts and great fortunes for their services, from Classical times to modern day paychecks.
Compensation has always played a large part in the image of the professional athlete, “According to the Roman author Plutarch, an Olympic victor who was a citizen of Athens could expect to receive in the year 600 B.C. A cash award of 500 drachmai, a literal fortune,” (“The Real Story of the Olympic Games”). In Ancient times, they pay scale was slightly different, but with the same concept. Prizes have always been a part of contests, a tradition that can be traced back for centuries. In Homer’s the Iliad, Achilles hosts a contest in honor of the fallen Patroclus, “The first prize he offered was for the Chariot races — a woman skilled in all the useful arts, and a three legged cauldron that had ears for handles, and would hold twenty two measures. This was for the man who came first,” (Iliad).
Modern day athletes continue to receive prizes for their successes. They receive monetary compensation through endorsements and contracts for their participation in professional programs. The compensation is much more than a useful woman and a cauldron in recent times. The 2006 Top National Football League salaries reached insane heights. According to USAToday.com, Richard Seymour from the NFL Patriots earned a whopping $24,691,160. Another New England Patriot who is a household name thanks to his quarter back position and all his endorsement deals over the years earned $16,004,840 in 2006.
One would think to believe that modern day prizes have become much more formalized and structured. Athletic programs such as the NBA have structured pay-scale caps for their players and coaches. He NFL also adheres to a strict pay structure. However, “In the Hellenistic period and the Roman periods, pensions for Athletes became more formalized and could actually bought or sold,” (“The Real Story of the Olympic Games”). So it seems that even if the currency of the payment has changed, the style and format of compensation has remained very similar.
Along with fame and fortune, athletes of both Ancient and Modern times have also had to deal with the same amount of pressure. The must keep their spot at the top, which sometimes proves too much for professional athletes. In William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s take on Homer’s Iliad, the character of Ulysses reminds Achilles of this age-old pressure, “Keep, then, the path, / for emulation hath a thousand sons / That one by one pursue,” (Troilus and Cressida 35). The fact that thousands of hopefuls would take a professional athletes spot in less than a second has not changed since the time of Homer and Shakespeare. Also adding to pressure placed among athletes is society’s condemnation of egotistical behavior, “The worthiness of praise distains his worth, / if that the praised himself bring the praise forth,” (30).
Homer. The Iliad. Book xxiii. Found at: http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.23.xxiii.html. On Friday September 21, 2007.
Murphy, Arthur. The Works of Cornelius Tacticus with Essay on His Life and Genius.
Oxford University Press. 1935.
Shakespeare, William. Troilus and Cressida. Penguin Books. New York. 2000.
The Real Story of the Olympic Games.” Found at http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/olympics/olympicsintro.shtml. On Friday September 21, 2007.
USAToday.com. USA Today Salaries Database. Found at http://asp.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/salaries/top25.aspx?year=2006on Friday September 21, 2007.