Is our modern-day sports obsession rooted in the ancient Olympic Games?
That's what author Tony Perrottet argues in his 2004 book, titled Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games.
"As if it weren't enough for the ancient Greeks to have established the foundations of Western philosophy, geometry, drama, art and science, we can also thank them for creating our modern passion for sport," Perrotett writes in the book. "The Greeks' love of competitive athletics is now secure embedded in international culture: not only our modern Olympic Games, revived in 1896 by the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, but the slew of world cups and Super Bowls, our opens and our grand slams, hark back to those energetic pagans…"
Perrotett's argument sounds a bit extreme -- until you begin to dig into the beginnings of other major sporting events. De Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games in 1896, after more than 10 years of planning, lobbying and preparation. With the exception of Major League Baseball, which was founded in 1869, the first Olympic Games predates the founding of the National Hockey League, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, which were founded in 1917, 1920 and 1946, respectively.
In order for de Coubertin to organize the first modern Olympic Games, there must have been a large following in several of the Olympic sports before the inception of the Games. Wrestling and weightlifting, for example, has been practiced in one form or another since before the inception of the ancient Olympic Games.
In Naked Olympics, Perrottet argues that the mild climate and open-aired gyms of ancient Greece allowed athletes to practice, work out and perfect their bodies incessantly. In addition, the ancient gymnasiums consisted of more than simply athletic facilities. They also included gardens, libraries, museums and the like. As a result, the gyms were more than just places to perfect skills. They were community centers where people met, learned about and gained a vested interest in the Olympic athletes.
Combine that with an extremely competitive and narcissistic culture, and it's easy to see where athletic obsession began, Perottet argues.
It wasn't in the United States with the MLB, NHL, NBA or NFL. It was in Olympia with the Olympic Games.
Sandra Johnson is a long-time Olympic fan. She had the opportunity to learn about every Olympic sport while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo.