Spectator sports created bonds among ancient Roman citizens. The Olympic Games, born from Rome's mentoring society of ancient Greece, began as a display of athletic prowess honed to precision for the purpose of combat readiness. The intense competitive spirit of Roman versus Roman grew to the point that it caused a schism in the empire's latter years in Byzantium. Municipal uprisings ensued that eventually influenced the rift between the East and West Roman Empire, laying the groundwork for today's western culture.
Another by-product of Grecian origin that was embellished by the Romans was a warrior named Spartacus. Spartacus was a captured Thracian from the northern region of Greek civilization, brought into slavery at Rome and trained in the ways of the gladiator. After gaining the mutual respect of spectators and cohorts alike, the charismatic figure led a revolt against the oppression of the empire and with no chance of success, ensured martyrdom for his name.
Fast-forward the timeline a couple of millenia to the 21st century A.D. and the scenario has not fundamentally changed all that much. NFL stadiums are now the venues for modern day gladiators with many similarities to those days of yore only magnified due to centuries of cumulative technological advances, knowledge, business planning finesse, marketing strategies, and a vast expanse of additional resources.
In 2002, Mike Webster, of Pittsburgh Steelers fame, died at the young age of 50. At one time known as possessing "the biggest arms" in the league, Webster made it known that he was aware of his mental deterioration. This phenomenon is now widely documented as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In Webster's case, as well as many players of the era, the mental deterioration could just as well be blamed on illicit drug abuse, as steroid use ran rampant in those days as well as a plethora of illegal substances. Doctors say that the post-autopsy examination of Webster's brain revealed the traumatic effects equal to 22,000 automobile collisions.
Webster was not alone with his mental affliction. The list continues with the likes of ex-Cowboy Larry Bethea, Tom McHale of the Dolphins and another ex-Steeler, Justin Strzelczyk. And more recently, the Bengals' Chris Henry, the Broncos' Kenny McKinley, Andre Waters of the Eagles and Terry Long of the Falcons.