Back In My Day, Being An American Gladiator Actually Meant SomethingCommentary • Opinion • sports year in review 2008 • ISSUE 44•04 • Jan 23, 2008 By Turbo We were an elite group of highly trained combatants charged with the task of preventing contestants from collecting cash and prizes—and doing so with our very lives. We dominated the cable-televised arena, each grueling event a test of our strength, agility, and heart. The public feared and respected us. We had cool names and we were strong.We were the American Gladiators. The real ones. Not like these shameless bastards.This new breed of so-called gladiators has no class. They make a big spectacle of themselves, prancing around their "arena" as if they were actual gladiators. See, we never had to put on airs of greatness. There were no frills, no showiness, just gladiators tackling average Americans on national TV. That's all.We didn't have to play characters, either. But what do you think this one new guy named Wolf does? He howls like a wolf before each event. What on earth is that? It's an absolute disgrace. I'm just glad Blaze, Laser, Thunder, Lace, Siren, Hawk, Ice, Malibu, Zap, Bronco, Jade, Dallas, and Jazz don't have to see this. They never could have imagined that someone would drag the name "American Gladiator" down so low.In the glory years of foam-tipped battle, not just any 6-foot-4, 250-pound ex-bodybuilder or semiprofessional athlete could be called an American Gladiator. You needed something more. If called upon you had to be ready to die in your L.A. Gear high-tops. We earned the right to wear the red, white, and blue spandex, and we wore it with honor and dignity.People may have called us mercenaries or brutes or aspiring actors looking for our big break on a popular syndicated program, but we were never in it for the money. All we cared about was the roar of the crowd as we shot tennis ball after tennis ball at a terrified opponent.All we needed were those feverish cheers as we used every last ounce of our strength to prevent the contestants, who were in pretty good shape, from knocking us off elevated platforms while they soared toward us on rope swings.That was what it meant to be a warrior.Whether defending those cylinders that guys tried to stuff balls into, or knocking contestants off a pedestal with those gigantic Q-tip things, my generation of American Gladiators could do it all. We didn't have to specialize like they do today. When we were asked to do something, we did it, for the glory and the honor that could only be found in Gladiator Arena. We may not have liked standing behind that paper wall, waiting for contestants to come bursting through as they tried to make it to the ultimate $50,000 prize, but we did it because it was our duty. We understood dignity in those days, and we were proud to race along an upside-down racetrack made of Velcro.Before an event all we had to do was clench our jaws, stare at our competitors, and make a few remarks like, "You're mine!" or "Come and get it!" or sometimes merely laugh maniacally for a few seconds, and they knew we meant business. That's why I don't understand all this thumbs-down business I see the new breed doing today. We didn't need hand signs. No sir. It was our actions while strapped to a bungee cord that proved our valor and nothing else.Where have all the heroes like Thunder gone? Without fail he would protect the goal, rolling like a champion in his metal sphere. Thunder was a name that inspired awe, a rumbling force that said it was always Crunch Time. Compare that to one of the new names, like Toa. Or Stealth. That's not deadly or honorable.That's just sneaking around a lot.Pathetic. I guarantee you won't see a grape-flavored nougat candy bar named after any of these young fools.It sickens me to see an American Gladiator congratulating contestants after losing to them. It is uncalled for, it is disgraceful, and it breaks the unspoken American Gladiator code. I once punched a guy in the face when he was beating me. I may have gotten disqualified and he may have earned some extra points, but he also got a message loud and clear: Turbo hits hard.These new bucks—they just don't possess the heart necessary. I nearly died when I saw one of the new gladiators bow out of a match due to injury. They are soft, like children. We would never surrender. We wielded blocking pads with such fury that no one could withstand the cushioned force.But it's not even about the competition anymore, is it? Not with fancy lights and special cameras and super-famous celebrity hosts Hulk Hogan and Muhammad Ali's daughter. Hell, I didn't even know who our host was until I had been on the show three years. Todd Christensen and/or Joe Theismann, Turbo salutes you.I'd love to get one last shot out there and show everyone what it means to be a gladiator, but it would do no good. The world has changed. People are happy to settle for silly outfits and large tanks of flaming water and no longer care about brawn, skill, or courage. Still, the fact that these gigantic men and women are allowed in the foam-covered arena at all is an insult to gladiators everywhere, American or otherwise.