Are Our Athletes Players?

The debate as to whether or not college athletes should be paid is one which has been exhausted and beaten to a pulp on this blog.  For arguments in every which direction feel free to look at the contentions held by my peers here, here, and here.  However, I believe that the core of this debate in fact rests upon one singular question. My question arches itself upon another topic which has been heavily deliberated on this blog, Huizinga’s definition of play as denoted in Homo Ludens.  When our athletes step on the field or court representing this university, are they engaging in play or is what they are doing something else entirely?


This would be an example of play as Huizinga defines it which is undeniable. It is free, enjoyable, and without reward other than that of the activity itself.

Huizinga most stringently limits play to activity which is free.  His chief requisite for engagement consists of ensuring that all participants are choosing to become subject to play and willfully enjoying the process.  And yet, Huizinga also mandates that players mustn’t be paid or tempted by some sort of prize/compensation.  This subsection of the definition is in place in order to preserve the jovial nature of play.  Play is not to be confused with profession or work. Huizinga maintains that it is important to keep the distinction between these two activities strong and ensure that one does not step on the toes of the other.

Universities and athletes themselves now must come to the conclusion of whether athletes are players on the side in addition to their schoolwork or if they are solely attending university to play their respective sports.  If athletes consider their sports to be just a game which pales in importance to education, then they need not be paid to play.  If sport is in fact more than a game to these athletes then play is irrelevant and these athletes should be paid just as any other employee.  Also, universities can then do away with needless class requirements for individuals who feel sport extends past play and open up seats for more students striving for a serious and rigorous college education.

Lebron James is an example of a highly touted high school basketball “player” who skipped college because he knew he would play the sport professionally.

Many people are going to college knowing full well that they will not stay on to receive a degree and that they will play their sport professionally.  In fact, the NBA mandated that players could not go straight from high school to their league in 2006.  The result of this is more disinterested college students hanging out on campuses for a while doing their job for free before they head to the pro’s.  These people are not playing games in college, they are doing unpaid what they will do professionally and get paid to do for years to come.

It is time to face the reality of this situation.  The seriousness of sport varies from athlete to athlete.  While for some athletics at the collegiate level still fall under the definition of play due to the fact that they have intentions of adopting a profession in an completely different field, for many others their sole goal in life is to succeed at the sport to which they have devoted their very life to.  Thus, perhaps there is not a standard answer for whether or not every athlete should be paid.  Could it be conceivable that we should be looking for certain athletes to be subject to payment based upon their interpretation of play?

– Jesse Arm