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The Confederate Lawyer
June 4, 2013

by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — An Italian restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, has a dozen flags hanging from the ceiling. They represent one of the oldest continuous rivalries in the world. They are the medieval flags of the neighborhoods in the city of Siena. They are copies of the flags carried in front of the best horse and best jockey in each neighborhood before a highly competitive annual race.

Rivalries are healthy outlets for aggression. They should not be confused with enmities or hatreds. There are still medieval rules in football games between the four quarters of the City of Florence; once the three-game series is over, the former contestants are friends. This is in striking contrast to the attitude that Florentines have about the City of Pisa. Dante reserved some of his harshest language for Pisa, and Florentines still say it is better to have a death in the family than to have a living Pisan.

In medieval Italy and Germany, cities were powerful units of government. Even in more centralized England, the Magna Charta contained a guarantee of the liberties of the cities. Long-term hatreds between cities often lasted for generations. This was not true of the internal rivalries within the cities, where once the game or race ended, everyone united as good citizens.  

Rivalries are truly Christian if they involve altruists who work together as a team without hope of reward for the defeat of adversaries whom they admire and respect.

Prior to Christian civilization, athletic competition centered around the glorification of individual athletes. In the last days of the ancient Roman civilization, there was a primitive form of football from which modern football, soccer, rugby, and similar games are derived. This game provided an ideal instrument for the new Christian concept of athletics, which was not about glorifying individuals but about people with their neighbors working in harmony for the victory of their team. The Christian sport was not about making enemies but about struggling for a few minutes or hours, and then resuming friendships.

At least as early as the 1790s, this fraternal form of rivalry came to America with almost daily football games between the two dormitory buildings then at Yale. Even earlier, there was an annual football game between freshmen and sophomores. Today, certain football games (Yale-Harvard, Army-Navy, Lehigh-Lafayette, Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Georgia-Georgia Tech) are called rivalries. Some of these games still preserve the characteristics of rivalries, but they are not true rivalries like those of Siena or even America 100 years ago.

The true rivalry involves altruism and can only exist among true amateurs. It involves a fierce loyalty to team mates and good sportsmanship toward adversaries. All of these virtues are lost if one plays for the prize of becoming a mercenary, paid huge sums to devote an entire life to athletics and to be bought and sold by teams like a piece of merchandise.

Rivalries are truly Christian if they involve altruists who work together as a team without hope of reward for the defeat of adversaries whom they admire and respect. In its pure form, an athletic rivalry is an exercise in charity, justice, and perseverance — not pride, hatred, and envy.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

This column may be forwarded, posted, or published if credit is given to Charles Mills and fgfBooks.com.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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