What is Guns, Germs, and Sports?

To learn history is to learn names.

We tell ourselves the story in novel form — someone great rises and changes history. Julius Caesar expanded the Roman Empire into Western Europe and initiated the fall of the Republic. George Washington crossed the Delaware River and won the Revolutionary War. Woodward and Bernstein followed the money and brought down the Nixon White House.

We learn these names because our society has generally subscribed to Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man Theory from the 1800s. The short version is that great leaders are born gifted and thus grow up to shape history. This is why we have a fawning Winston Churchill biopic every ten years. Right man, right moment.

It’s never really that simple. The more you read, the more you start to recognize the trends and movements that precede these events. Julius Caesar acted similarly to many of his Roman peers and ancestors. The Republic was crumbling well before he arrived on the scene, and a de facto dictator named Sulla had led the Rome of his youth.

We rarely talk that way about sports.

In the past century, the standard way to speak about athletic greatness is to subscribe to the Great Man view of history: Jordan, Ruth, Ali. Where there is a debate, it usually centers around which great man deserves the credit. Russell or Auerbach? Brady or Belichick? Even coverage of baseball’s unromantic evolution into advanced statistics devolved into hagiographies of executives like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein.

My intention with this website is to take a broader view. I won’t be responding to box scores or blockbuster trades in the traditional way. When I look at a result, such as Clemson winning the college football playoff last week, I’m going to seek to answer the question: how did we get here?

The title of this site is a play on the book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Like many a pseudo-intellectual before me, that book was my first exposure to the idea that history is often shaped as much environment as personalities.

Now, I’m unlikely to develop a grand theory of the sports world that boils down to the native plants and animals of the Boston metropolitan area. Instead, I hope to expand the conversation with you, the reader, to consider things outside of the typical sports discussion.

In the coming weeks, we will explore:

Why did the media adore Brett Favre so much?

Where should we expect the next great college football program?

What is the most pointless and counterproductive rule across all sports?

We will talk about history, but we won’t ignore current events. We’ll shine a light on broken systems and propose solutions.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.

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