Compared with — say — the practices of ancient Rome, the penalties for failure of character or performance on today’s athletic fields could be considered rather mild.
But even for those — and they are surely more to be pitied than censured — who care little about baseball, the saga of hatred and bile in the matter of one Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez is akin to being unable to turn away from gazing at the effects of a serious automobile accident.
Mr. Rodriguez — better known to his sport’s aficionados as Alex or A-Rod — is a cheater. Blessed with an uncommon ability to hit a baseball with authority, he has acquired Croesus-like wealth, an abundance of pulchritudinous female companionship … and the odium of vast numbers of fans who yell mean things at him while he practices his profession.
The Romans knew a thing or two about sports, such as they were way back then. Some gladiators who fought in the Colosseum were idolized to the extent that their blood was thought to be a cure for impotence, and using their spears as a comb could make women fertile.
However, their lives were quite often short and brutally brought to an end in an arena where “pollice verso” — a turn of the thumb from the audience and ultimately the emperor — meant the difference between life and death for a defeated gladiator.
All this disgusted early Christian writer Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD), whose words about Colosseum onlookers could easily apply to today’s sports fans, including those in Boston on Sunday who cheered mightily when A-Rod was purposely hit in the ribs by a pitch traveling at more than 90 miles an hour.
“Next taunts or mutual abuse without any warrant of hate, and applause, unsupported by affection,” Tertullian wrote. .... “The perversity of it! They love whom they lower; they despise whom they approve; the art they glorify, the artist they disgrace.”