Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #62 // American Football: The Modern Day Spartan Agōgē by Prewitt Scott-Jackson

Dating back to the 6th century BCE Sparta mandated military training for all males ages 7 and up. Renowned throughout history as the ultimate rite of passage for male youth, the agōgē’s pulse can be found today in the form of American Football.

I know because I lived it, and in Texas no less.

Why can’t we move on from this ancient rite?

The simple answer?

All the powerful countries in the world are dictated by ancient faith(s) and ancient rites; why would this be any different? Evolution has plateaued and the “Me vs. You” instinct has never been more prevalent.

Age limit for tackle football varies by league although most associations start tackle football at age 6. In the early ‘90s, I started playing organized tackle football at age 11. While I may have been a little old by Texas standards to be strapping on a helmet for the first time, it’s not like I hadn’t been accustomed to violent youth sport.

In 2nd grade my bio-Dad and Gramps stole me away from the “soft” confines of my mother’s care to their hunting lease for the weekend. On one particularly joyless night the whisky-fueled men constructed a gladiator arena of sorts using found rocks which they arranged on the ground to create an irregularly shaped circle.

The men placed money in a neon orange hunting cap before summoning me and another young boy to the campfire. Under West Texas stars and by campfire light, we were simply told…

“C’mon now, fight.”

I remember feeling confused by the command, but then again, more than anything, I remember feeling terrified. Conversely, my opponent - a legit country boy - knew the score. He charged at me hard with fists striking my face, almost instantly bullying blood out of my nostrils.

I connected with the dirtiest slice of humanity in that moment, the impossible-to-kick animalistic base instinct to win. My own personal agōgē had officially commenced. 

In between puffs of Marlboro Reds my 84-year-old grandpa retells this story when I visit him, “Once you gotta taste boy, let me tell you, you turned it on. You destroyed that kid!”  

Speaking of, nothing connects the Sparta agōgē and football like the Oklahoma Drill.

For those of you unacquainted with the Oklahoma Drill, let this short clip function as CliffsNotes. The Oklahoma Drill aka The Tunnel of Truth: a small confined space is established using cones or blocking bags then it’s simply a matter of who can dig the deepest into that lingering ultra-violent vein.   

The Okie drill initially overwhelmed me. The speed of it, the force of it; I simply wasn’t ready. Soon however, I came to cherish its raw emotionality.

Ancient rites of the agōgē ilk remain because despite all the sociological advances made this past century the human race will never fully reject the darkest ritualized hollows of our humanity.


Prewitt Scott-Jackson’s work is a mutation of sorts, a ménage à trois of poetry, prose and flash fiction. The University of California Santa Barbara alum grew up on Southern storytelling prior to achieving degrees in Native American Studies and Religious Studies. As concussions piled up and better influences seeped into his life, Scott-Jackson stopped playing football at age 16. His 3-year-old son will never play a down of football.

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