Why Didn’t Gladiators Take a Knee?

Of all the “sports” stars of any era, the group that probably had the most reason to protest the national anthem were the gladiators. Thrown to wild animals with a high risk of death just to entertain the affluent Romans was a tough ask, especially as some of them weren’t even Romans. Few, if any, had any sort of civil rights, and had some had been captured in battle. There were other reasons for them to protest. First, they were almost always scheduled against the Lions. For goodness sake you’d think the Emperor could have persuaded the Packers or the Bears to come once in a while. The fact is that most fights were between gladiators.

Of course, the Gladiators didn’t have much say in the matter but, in a move that anticipated the 2017 Steelers, they were not just left in the locker room while the anthem played, they were actually tied up so they couldn’t cause a nuisance. Just ask Russell Crowe. Well, that is a slight misrepresentation.

Gladiators could be men captured in battle, criminals, or slaves seeking freedom. Those with the worst criminal record or social black marks were given the toughest fights where survival was improbable. Sometimes, two hated criminals would fight against each other. Many men actually volunteered to gladiate in an attempt to win their freedom. Some of them died trying to make a living. There were even female gladiators.

If you tend to think critically of life in ancient eras you might be surprised to know that apart from technology there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between life then and now.

Although initially introduced to mark the death of the loved one of an affluent person or a politico, the popularity of the gladiator fights grew rapidly. The whole gladiator system ultimately was designed to benefit the affluent and the politicians, who staged grand gladiatorial events to hype their popularity and curry favors, especially around election time. Gladiators were big business.

A typical fight would last between 10 and 15 minutes, about as much actual playing time as there is an NFL game. There could be many fights at the same event, making it a fun day out for spectators who sometimes determined the outcome by their vocal support for one or other of the fighters. Sometimes the ref decided. There was no instant replay. Many losers were spared the death penalty and lived to fight for years.

However, despite the violence and death, there was a reverence for the spectacle amongst spectators and gladiators alike. Those who were about to lose, often laid down their weapons in a humble acceptance of their fate. Even those who died, were respected for their bravery. So, perhaps, if given a chance, the gladiators wouldn’t have protested. Not only would they have paid for such a protest dearly, some of the better ones would have lost their sponsorship, which could be significant. And many knew that being a gladiator gave them a chance to rise above their oppressed status.