Sports: A Game Or a Job?

Earlier in the semester, we read and discussed Louis Menand’s article “Live and Learn” which talked about the different purposes of college. He proposed several theories about why we attend college. The first was that we are here to be sorted by intelligence and talents, and this process will weed us into our careers. The second theory is that we are in college to develop skills and become “informed citizens” through a higher education.

I recently attended the Michigan basketball game against Syracuse, where the Wolverines pulled out a great win. I also went to one of my former high school’s football games earlier in the semester. Watching both of these events got me asking a similar question as the one Menand asks.

Crisler Arena Bumping for Against Syracuse

Crisler Arena Bumping for Against Syracuse

What is the real purpose of sports? Is it purely for the love of the game? Or is it for the spectators and the money that being an athlete can provide?

In my opinion, there really isn’t and accurate way to answer that question. From watching the two events I went to, though, I feel different levels of competition create a different purpose of play.

At the high school game, the stakes were obviously much less. Though there was a decently large crowd for a high school football game, the level of viewing wasn’t anywhere near that of the Michigan game. The spectators of a sport, in my opinion, change the seriousness of the game tremendously. Michigan basketball players feel the pressure to preform at a high level, because if not, they are letting so many people down.

While high schoolers are still taking their games very seriously, I think that the pressure of the college athletics makes players treat athletics with much less of a “playful” attitude. In my opinion, college players view their sport as less of a game and more of an obligation. Because of this, I would suggest that Huizinga’s “magic circle” starts to disappear at the higher levels of play. The magic circle is completely outside of reality, but I don’t think Michigan basketball players play their games that way. Concerns about keeping their scholarships and possibly getting to the NBA makes their games much more real than at the high school level.

Derek Jeter made his retirement at the end of this past baseball season. When he announced his retirement, he stated that he imageswas quitting baseball because it was finally “becoming a job”. To me, this makes Derek a truly special athlete, because until that point of his career he was playing baseball purely for the love of the game.

After watching the two events while considering what I’ve learned from this class, it is clear to me that athlete’s intentions for play changes as the level of competition increases. I think it takes a truly special player to play at a professional or even collegiate level simply for the “love” of the game.

2 thoughts on “Sports: A Game Or a Job?

  1. I think this is an insightful post on the fact of the unknown – we will never know exactly what motivates professional athletes other than what we see on the screen. The minds of the athletes vary as it seems increasingly players like Marshawn Lynch who are being speculated for retirement at a young age just simply do not “love the game” anymore. That drive and motivation has to come from within, something we can’t see as spectators most of the time. Jeter obviously is a different animal as it is known how much he loves the game as evidenced by how long his career has been even after the fame and fortune.

    I would have liked to see you bring in Menand a little more with quotations as I think it is important for the reader to see the topic as more than just a snap shot. I liked the connection you made with the “play circle” but I am missing the point about the Michigan basketball players being more determined than high school players. I may be reading this incorrectly, but I think High School players have the same drive as college athletes just because for most of them, it is their only way of attending college – at all. Whether that be academics or financially, high school athletes need the sport because it is their only way of “making it” in some cases.


  2. I agree with what you are saying about how as the level of competition goes up, the less fun a sport gets and the more serious it is. Much of this comes from the aspirations of the athletes playing the sports. Any six year old basketball player will want to go play in the NBA, but no one can know whether or not he actually has the talent to go do so until he is much older. However, when he is in high school you can see that type of potential emerge, and as the goals seem more and more real, the more serious it should become for the athlete. I also think that in reference to the Derek Jeter part of your post, part of competition itself is loving the game, and if you feel that you cannot perform at the level that you once had, it can make it even harder to stay consistent. This was in line with what I interpret as Jeter’s mindset in his retirement.


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