Thumbs Down


The gladiators stand in the tunnel surveying the crowd, awaiting their fate, hoping to have some control of the outcome.  The crowd, that fickle crowd, will decide, in the end, the death or the glory of the gladiator.

Bones crunch, heads snap, bodies bleed, when body hits body at full speed.  The gladiator rises, again and again, to meet the onslaught of his opponent.  Sweating, cursing his body for not doing what he thought he had trained it to do in preparation for this day, this event.  He’s done this before…fought for his life and his glory before, but today that crowd is different.  It’s not on his side today.

He’s known this day would come for as long as he could remember.  As a youth he knew his ability in the games of youth set him apart, but he could see what happened to those lesser bodies that succumbed to even minor injuries.  Thumbs down.  His physical presence was destined to raise him above his social circumstances, but he also knew he would one day pay the price.

When his tendon snapped, and his knee bent backward with the onslaught of the physical wall, he knew this would be the day he would pay that price.  This was the thumbs down day he dreaded.  This was the day his life, as he knew it, would end.

The crowd gasped.  The crowd applauded his lifelong effort to survive and entertain them….and then the crowd turned their thumbs down and walked away, because, in their secret heart of hearts, this was exactly what they came to see…the falling of the best of the best.  The mighty fallen.

Sound like a story of ancient Rome?  It should, but it is also the same sad game being played out in arenas today, even though it is called something different.  In America one of the the most violent incarnations is called Football.

Football is arena war.  Football is using the young, raising them up, and then abandoning them when they can no longer entertain.  Too many players with identities caught up exclusively in the sport.  Football glorifies violence, just as does the military, and says that the positive things it instills, like teamwork and discipline, supersede the foundational premise of the game.  This is the public relations lie.  Domination, winner vs. loser, bragging rights…superiority.  It is among the accepted ways of channeling testosterone when there is no war, and working testosterone into a frenzy of camaraderie when there is.

Beyond even that, sports, like football, (I am staying with one sport, knowing there are definitely others that can be mentioned!) say to the player and the watcher that the physical is more important than the mind and spirit of that player.  When we identify with that scenario, the scenario of only the strong survive, might makes right, outward vs. inward, we play our part in the manipulation of the world paradigm.  This paradigm says that the strong in any way (physical, wealth, mental) are entitled to dominate, and manipulate to get what they desire.  In fact, the thought, in some religions is just that… they are chosen by God to have that entitlement.

This paradigm manipulates us into living externally…the right clothes, all you can eat to the detriment of your body, bigger, better, shinier, this vodka will get you the guy/girl, this beer is macho, this car…don’t stop to feel, think.  If you did, you might not really see yourself in your own life any more.

I can no longer watch games of dominance with a passive eye.  There is room for individualism even in the win-win model.  A person can “win” by simply knowing that on this day their skill worked to give them their desired result.  Others can know they did not lose, they merely had the opportunity to enjoy, use, and know their bodies, and the result of scoring the most points was not met.  No shame, no dominations, but still knowing who you are as an individual even in the physical arena.

Surely humanity can accept and develop games and challenges that do not require mimicking war.  Surely we can know ourselves as strong and capable without requiring certain physical jeopardy to do so.  Surely we, as the observers, can do so without the desire to see blood and defeat…and surely we observers can extend an embrace rather than a thumbs down to those who did not meet their desired result.

The new Gladiator knows that he/she is valued for all they are.  Valued for the perfection of body, valued for the openness of their hearts, and valued for their Spirit which knows only Love, and never even thinks about a thumbs down.  Even when the game ends.  Especially when the game ends.

(Therese Wilson is a published poet, and is the administrator of, and Spiritual Helper at, the global website at  She may be contacted at:




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  • Lisa

    Thank you for writing this. I am a newspaper publisher in a small town in western Nebraska where football is revered. The city recently had to purchase band uniforms because they hadn’t been replaced in 20 years; however, the football team always has what it needs. Go Huskers! is the common hurrah throughout football season here. I like to go shopping during the game because everything is quiet. One of the most disturbing trends about football that is just now becoming known is the problem with concussions. Is it smart of us to put still developing brains in helmets and tell these boys to go bash the skulls of their opponents? Do people really understand what a concussion can do to these boys? Living in Nebraska as I do, the insanity of football is palpable. Fans behave poorly when the Huskers lose. The posts on Facebook are ugly and disappointing. Is it worth letting a silly game ruin your week? It happens all the time. I used to have a job here where everyone would dread Monday after the Huskers lost because our manager would be a bear to deal with. Wake up people! Football is like a drug. It puts focus on things that do not matter, while the suffering of masses of people worldwide are ignored. I wish there were something to be done, but I really don’t know what that would be. Like any addiction, mention that someone should put it down when they don’t want to see the problem is a scary thing to do, especially when an entire culture of celebrated acceptance is rife within the problem.

    • Therese

      LIsa, if it would serve you to do so, you may put my article in your newspaper as an editorial opinion, or guest opinion column. Since I don’t live in your small Nebraska town, I won’t experience the same repercussions as you would! Together we might just plant a few ideas that may be ready to be heard?

    • Debra O’Bryant Haworth

      It has indeed turned into an ugly pastime as you have said, even pitting family against family, friend against friend. Fans are beating each other to a bloody pulp over rivalries. Fights are the norm. It sickens me to watch the masses salivate over game days and all it ensues. I do not engage in it and wish more people would awaken and become aware of the Roman Gladiator analogy of these sports.

  • Blake

    The NFL just came out with a report that childhood concussions were down to 4% and that this is a low injury rate that parents can continue to let there children play football.

    One injury is to many!

    Of course in a capitalist society money talks children suffer.