Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Winning Isn’t Everything (Anymore)

April 5th, 2010 · 6 Comments

Another lost season for our beloved Los Angeles Clippers has got us thinking about what fate our team would have faced in a less forgiving age. It’s easy to forget that sportsmanship is a rather recent innovation, and that athletes in the ancient world often faced dire consequences should they lose a single contest. We’re not necessarily speaking of the obvious examples, like those poor Roman gladiators or unfortunate Aztec ballplayers. The penalty for poor athletic performance wasn’t always death; sometimes it was simply abject humiliation:

An early Hittite text speaks of an archery contest held in the presence of the king, in which the winner received wine, and the loser suffered the humiliation of stripping naked and bringing water for the others.

As much as we’d like for the Clippers to be a wee bit more motivated on the floor, we have to say that the advent of sportsmanship speaks well for our species’ development over the past few millennia. Any society that builds punishments into its games’ rules is a society that has some serious problems with its power dynamics. Because ultimately, an over-reliance on sticks (as opposed to carrots) can only breed paranoia and fear between those who play the games, and those who use them for amusement.

That said, we wouldn’t mind seeing Clippers’ owner Donald T. Sterling get a little taste of Hittite mockery. Lord knows he deserves it.


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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Gramsci

    I would offer Sterling Hittite mockery and a 2012 draft pick for Baron Davis. Beats waiting for him to sell.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: Will have more on Sterling later today. Suffice to say he’s high atop my “People Upon Whom I Wish Great Misfortune” list. I’ve literally been waiting my whole life for him to sell. But I now realize that I will probably die before someone without the surname “Sterling” owns my favorite team.

  • hubcap

    So it’s safe to say that in the Hittite Basketball Association we wouldn’t be watching Don Nelson striving to get win #1310?

    Or maybe if we WERE watching, we would all have the image of Naked Don Nelson seared into our minds after 1008 career losses…

    …nude Mike Dunleavy ….

  • scottstev

    The brutal competitive fires haven’t completed left us in the modern era. href = “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andres_Escobar” > Andres Escobar was killed, in part, due to an own-goal committed against the US in the 1994 World Cup.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Actually, the tale of another Escobar popped to mind when I was writing this post. Toward the beginning of Killing Pablo, Mark Bowden tells a fantastic anecdote about how the fabled Colombian drug lord liked to pass the time. Apparently he would hire extremely hot models, then have them compete in nude tree-climbing races. The loser got her head shaved.

    I was going to post that, but, alas, I loaned my Killing Pablo to a friend years ago, and haven’t seen it since. If anyone has a copy handy, I’d be much obliged if you could look up that anecdote and provide any more salient details.