Athletic Endeavors and Society

By | January 9, 2012

The Veddas are a traditional tribal society indigenous to Sri Lanka. The status of a hunter in their society is directly and understandably related to his athletic prowess. Unfortunately the same is not true in our society.

In yesterday’s blog we spoke of the unethical uses of anabolic steroids by professional athletes, but in my opinion the real problem is the misplaced meaning of athletic endeavors in our society and the fact that they are viewed as an end in themselves rather than part of some greater whole. If we look at sports from an anthropological perspective we see that many of our oldest sporting events have their roots in military exercises. The Olympic Games of ancient Greece are a perfect example, but if one goes back even further these same skills of running and jumping and spear throwing were also the skills of the hunter and here the meaning of sport becomes most clear.

If we shift our attention to the Native American Indians we find a culture that both hunted and made war. They recognized however that one activity was basically productive, to be engaged in regularly and the other basically destructive and to be avoided if possible. In addition the admiration of the hunter was generational more than historical. While all of the tribes had mythic tales of super-hunters, members understood that far more important were the skills of the best hunters of their own time, because that was how they ate and lived. The goal of the hunters was likewise not so much to surpass the legendary heroes of the past in some abstract sense, but to join their ranks in the care and feeding of the tribe. In these societies the athletic status, the economic status and the social status of the individual were all related. Sadly in our society they are not.

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