Are Professional Athletes Really “Playing”?

With sports being the multi billion-dollar industry are athletes really “playing” or are they doing their job? Huizinga defines play as being free, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, and make-believe. Professional athletes do not enjoy any of these luxurious.

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Professional athletes are by no means free when referring to their contracts. They are bounded under their contracts to do specific things. Professional athletes are dictated to “play”, practice, and produce for their team regardless of whether or not they want to.

Sporting events are not a separate part of an athlete’s life rather they dictate his life. He manages his life around playing for his franchise. This is his source of income and without it he has no way of making money. His “playing” has become a necessity, and more importantly, by definition a job

There is an uncertainty to life in general, not just “playing”. While the exact outcome of a game is uncertain as to who will win and who will lose one, there are certain things that are always constant. The game will always be played, teams records will be affected, and someone will make money off of it.

Sports for a professional athlete are the farthest thing from unproductive. It is arguably the only productive part of their lives. Athletes train hard and practice hard so that they can produce for their team, not just simply “play”.

Almost every aspect of life is governed by rules. While games and “playing” have rules, so do the rest of our lives. This definition of play is broad enough to cover the definition of a job as well.

Make believe is also considered to be an aspect of “playing”. There is no make believe for athletes when they are on the field. The actions they perform out there will dictate how much they will be paid in the future. Since they are performing actions in order to receive compensation they are working for their money. They are not and will never “play” for nothing.

In conclusion, Professional athletes are in fact participating in a mandated activity that meets none of the criteria under Huizinga’s definition of play.


One thought on “Are Professional Athletes Really “Playing”?

  1. I agree that professional sports do not fit into Huizinga’s definition of play. Pro athletes do not have limits to play. Anything they do is related back to their job. This is evident in the current controversy regarding NFL players with domestic violence and child abuse. These crimes are not during the football games, yet they govern the play these athletes are part of. Other things outside play still relate back to it, such as someone identifying another by what team they are on, rather than the person that they are. Why not call Tom Brady father rather than football player? Professional athletes have to sacrifice things like this that may seem so simple, for the sake of the games they play.


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