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January 28, 2015

The Movie Diary: A shot in the dark

By Dom Cioffi

I did some research recently to see if I could determine whether anyone had discovered what the world’s first sport was. Unfortunately, the answers I found were far from conclusive. 

Some believe that the Aztecs of ancient Mexico invented the first game, a precursor to modern soccer that was played with balled-up material made from animal skins and leaves.

Others believe that the first sport was hurling, a game invented by the Gaels in ancient Europe. It’s been called the starting point for many competitive sports such as lacrosse, field hockey and ice hockey. Hurling invented the idea of a ball/puck and netted goal combo.

Still others point to bowling after paintings were found in an Egyptian tomb that depicted scenes of human figures knocking down pins with a round ball.

It has also been noted that around 2697 B.C.E., at the time of the Yellow Emperor’s reign, the Chinese were engaging in a form of wrestling called Shuai Jiao. This was an especially abusive form of combat where the competitors adorned horned headgear in order to “butt” their opponents into submission.

These are all intriguing possibilities, but I have to believe that the answer lies a little further back in history –possibly during the Paleolithic Age when early humanoids roamed the earth.

For example, picture two gruff cavemen, neither able to communicate outside of rudimentary words, grunts and finger pointing, challenging one another to throw a rock against a barren stump, or into a small pool of water, or onto a rocky outcropping.

The activity would have involved concentration and coordination, which would have undoubtedly aided in the development of the human brain.

It wouldn’t have taken long for a scoring system (possibly scratches on a nearby stone to represent successful tosses) and rules to be implemented. Arguments would have undoubtedly ensued so referees would have been needed. And it only follows that other curious cavemen would have inevitably gathered around as spectators, each rooting for his or her favorite competitor.

Soon one of the cavemen would have yelled, “Unga gunga!” (loosely translated as “I got next game!”) Before you know it, leagues would have formed, managers and trainers would have been hired, and concession stands would have been built.

Eventually champions would have been crowned and legends made. Perhaps there would even have been a specially reserved cave for the most famous and successful competitors – a “Cave of Fame,” if you will.

So why do I think this? Because the desire to throw something at a target or into a goal is instinctual. The scenario I just described must have occurred millions of times before someone thought to pick up a stick to add another dimension. Once the mutations started, the world of sports that we know today would have begun their slow evolution.

But even though I’m certain that this scenario must have occurred, I’ve determined that throwing a stone could not have been the first sport (a close second maybe, but not the first).

No, the first sport had to have been straight-up fighting.

I mean, early man was always fighting – for food, for companionship, for power – it only makes sense that they also fought for sport. The history of man is basically the history of fighting. That’s how religions took hold, nations were formed, and kings were crowned.

And while hand-to-hand combat has deviated into many art forms (i.e. karate, boxing, ultimate fighting), in the end, people simply enjoy watching one person physically dominate another. This is as true today as it was thousands of years ago.

Of course fighting for sport is one thing. The competitors can talk trash ahead of time and then beat each other into submission during the match and still shake hands afterwards with mutual respect.

Fighting for other reasons is when things can get out of hand (no pun intended). When weapons enter the fray and are combined with anger, things can change dramatically.

In this week’s feature we look at a man who took his job and his duty to his country to a profoundly accomplished level – a level that integrated all the necessary attributes of the world’s greatest athletes.

“American Sniper” is the true story of Chris Kyle, a young man who, through the course of the Iraqi War, would become the most accomplished sniper in US military history. However, his combat success would not translate into civilian success with his re-entry back into society.

There’s a lot of media attention surrounding this film with much if it revolving around whether or not Chris Kyle was a hero. Whatever your opinion may be, no one can deny that director Clint Eastwood has created another fantastic motion picture.

Check this one out to witness a riveting portrayal of war – complete with the harsh realities that most people want to ignore. A stellar performance from Bradley Cooper makes it all the more compelling.

A bull’s-eye “B+” for “American Sniper.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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