Kids’ Soccer vs. Johnny Football: What Really is a Magic Circle Anyway?

As a spectator, I got the chance to experience, firsthand, Huizinga’s argument about play and the magic circle be confirmed affirmatively in present-day life, witnessing a Buffalo Bills NFL game and my little cousin’s soccer game this past fall. Firstly, my eleven-year old cousin’s game was exponentially more fun to watch than I thought it would be. In Homo Ludens by Huizinga, he characterizes play as inherently fun. “Now this last named element, the fun of playing, resists all analysis, all logical interpretation.” Simply put, it was easy to tell that these pre-teen girls were having a blast on the field. Yes, they were trying to win. They had an objective, but throughout the game they were undeniably enjoying the game. Furthermore, the coaches and spectators were enjoying it as well. Kids play sports to have fun and be a part of something involving teamwork and cooperation, and this reasoning readily goes along with Huizinga’s definition of sport as something without ulterior motives. He goes on to talk about how “play is the direct opposite of seriousness.” While these girls were not fooling around and followed the rules they were supposed to, they clearly had fun and used soccer as an outlet from daily life.

Kids playing recreational soccer, perfectly fitting Huizinga's definition of play.

Kids playing recreational soccer, perfectly fitting Huizinga’s definition of play.

This break from the norms of daily life is also part of the magic circle Huizinga discusses. Play is “played out within certain limits of time and place,” writes Huizinga, and that carried true for my cousin’s game. After it was over (her team won, but that wasn’t discussed much), we all hopped in the car and picked a place for dinner. We discussed many things in the car and at dinner itself, but surprisingly (or not, according to Huizinga) was the absence of excessive talk about the game. It was over and done with, and it was time to move on.

There is a stark contrast between my cousin’s play, and the play of Johnny Manziel in the Bills vs. Browns game played this past Sunday. Manziel, the rookie Brown’s backup quarterback, is known for his media presence and has become a well-known celebrity.  Football has been a way of life for him, and now he’s playing professionally and being paid for it. Huizinga would not advocate for anyone being paid to play professionally. It was exciting to get to see Manziel tossed in the game as my team trampled his, and he even scored a touchdown. However, he was sacked during his next drive. Was this an intrusion in his personal magic circle, being sacked in front of thousands of fans?

Johnny Manziel hurtles into the end zone against the Bills last Sunday.

Johnny Manziel hurtles into the end zone against the Bills last Sunday.

For me, it is hard to determine if there’s a magic circle in terms of this celebrity player. While he is a professional, and Huizinga would not think that counts as play, the aura surrounding him is undeniable. As he played at the Ralph Wilson Stadium, everyone’s eyes were on him. Fans were enraptured by his play and quick feet. So while I originally thought that the sporting events I saw fit Huizinga’s definition- that unprofessionalism is the only true form of play, and the magic circle can only exist within that- I now have to change my mind. Amazing, famous athletes such as Manziel, or “Johnny Football,” as he is also called, carry their own magic circles with them. One is lucky to get the chance to be a part of it and the spectacle within it.


2 thoughts on “Kids’ Soccer vs. Johnny Football: What Really is a Magic Circle Anyway?

  1. Very intriguing. I like how you identified the tensions in the application of the magic circle between your younger cousin’s youth soccer game and the Browns’ game, specifically Johnny Manziel’s performance. I liked how you cited how there wasn’t much talk of your cousin’s soccer game afterwards, which exemplifies the fact that the game is confined to a time and place. Questioning your own original beliefs when speaking about Manziel was a nice plot twist to the post. Great post.


  2. I really enjoyed your post and would one hundred percent agree with the general thesis of it. Huizinga would most certainly argue that the children’s soccer game is a much better example of “play” than Manziel’s football game and or career in general. Since college, Manziel has been in it for the money, signing autographs and doing controversial things like using his athletic fame to achieve other things. Although Manziel is controversial in what he utilizes his fame for, we cannot really tell what he truly plays the game for. Maybe, Manziel really does enjoy the game of football and has that little kid spirit awoken every game he plays. So although, I agree that Huizinga would agree with your post I am not sure if I personally would agree because of the uncertainty of Manziel’s interests.


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