The Sweat Sports Secret


April 4, 2012 by David Gillaspie

All Sports Take Sweat (also posted on

After the game

In terms of sweat, a Fowler Middle School rec team with an interim coach equals the Blazers, the Ducks, and the Oregon State Champion Jesuit Crusaders.

They are more than equal in terms of the hope and joy they bring their fans.

After you add money, education, and facilities, sweat stays the same but other things start to change. For better or worse is the question. It goes back a long time.

There is no video to study, no written proof, but chances are good that men and women who broke the first sweat did so either chasing their dinner, or avoiding becoming dinner themselves.

When food gathering was a community event, tribal members hunted together. Evidence of teamwork comes from animal bones and crushed human bones found together. A mastodon might die from hunters’ spears, but it’ll take a few with them on the way out. Thinning the herd worked both ways when a novice hunter made a mistake in front of a falling giant.

The technology and teamwork combined to bring home the bacon during the Stone Age had no comparison when circumstances changed from hunting to being the hunted. When you’re the bacon, it’s simple. Run faster than the slowest tribe member and you win that race. Or run smarter.

A dependable food supply changed survival sweat to recreational sweat. Even though tribes no longer ran for their lives from predators, they were still interested in speed. Racing crowned winners but spared the losers from being eaten.

Stable food sources also reduced fighting over food and shelter. Fights became recreational. Wrestling for survival turned into recreational combat where death was discouraged as a medal winning condition.

The joke from the early Olympics, which featured running and wrestling, broke athletes into two groups: those who could stand their ground wrestled and those who couldn’t ran. It’s a real howler in the original Greek.

Since those days, mankind added skills and rules to create modern sports. The shared currency across the millennium is still sweat. Intense competition brings victory sweat for the winners, and flop sweat for the losers.

Somewhere between the elegance of early 20th century rowing or sailing regattas, and the gritty mud from leather helmet football games, competitions began attracting more fans. The water sports were clean, fashionable, and socially connected. Tennis was a model of proper decorum.

On the other side of the tracks, football was seen as a sport played by low-brow roughnecks, a far cry from the corporate entity behind today’s NFL shield. It was a game tough guys organized, pay or no pay, to kick the heck out of one another and leave opponents bleeding in the dirt.

College football drew huge crowds before the NFL businessmen noticed. After college, players needed more than semi-pro barnstorming teams. They needed a structural framework. They needed the National Football League.

As the sport grew, so did expectations. The well-dressed money crowd became fans. No one wanted to see players get their faces smashed, so face guards came about. Fans didn’t want to see crippling injuries, so protective rules were written and enforced.

Eventually, fans didn’t want to see their favorite players all sweaty and dirty after a game. They wanted hygiene, not some sour smelling hulk, when their children held out an autograph book.

Artificial turf solved the dirt problem; anti-perspirant solved the sweat problem. Now after a game the players look as refreshed as a yacht captain, or coxswain. No more black eyes and broken noses in front of the camera. No more fighting for survival. At least not where fans can see it.

We watch games for a subliminal thrill. When someone gets hurt, we feel their pain on a subliminal level. Fans watch an athlete crumple to the turf. The broadcast cuts to a commercial. By the time the game returns, the player is off the field like it never happened.

It’s enough for most people to see the injuries and look away, but not enough for sports fans. We want to feel the game, so we work a sweat up by building a tail-gating platform. At halftime we throw the ball, maybe run routes and pull a hammy. After the game we tidy up in a manly fashion, sweating out the win or loss by reviewing the big plays. We ice up and feel good.

Why? Because sweat is the difference maker. If you’re sweating, you’re surviving the same way cavemen did, building strength and endurance. You are still in the game. If you’re sweating, then you’re running your life better, smarter. Exercise does that.

It doesn’t even have to be physical exercise. Brain sweat is a little different, but it still pops out on your forehead. Go to any chess tournament and you’ll notice a familiar aroma. For them, taking a queen in speed chess is like running a marathon, and that takes sweat.

Sweat puts you in brotherhood with ancient man, takes you back to the roots you never cared about. You may not know who to make fire rubbing two sticks together, or how to skin a saber-tooth cat, but you know how to get fired up enough to break a sweat. Do it often. Do it for your team, for your sport. Most important, do it for you. You can’t win without a little sweat.


2 thoughts on “The Sweat Sports Secret

  1. markmmullins says:

    Nice motivational piece. “You can’t win without a little sweat”! Amen brother

    • David Gillaspie says:

      You can’t say that often enough. Sweat it out, then get things cleaned up and do it again. I hear the sauna calling…

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