The tradition of sport, is it really play?

School tours always killed me. I felt like most places said the same things, mainly directed at parents as to why they should send their kids here rather than directed at the students as to why they should come. But, I always did have a favorite part of the tour: traditions. Hearing about the various things that were specific to each college is what attracted or deterred me from those schools. In saying this I was quite disappointed when my tour guide at Michigan skimmed over the traditions section.

I didn’t want to be that kid who asked a question that made the tour go on for another hour so instead I kept to myself. But when thinking upon my question of what the traditions were at Michigan, I realized that being a part of the school is being a part of a tradition. Being a student at the University, you are part of the “Leaders and Best,” the “Victors,” and a part of something that is much bigger than yourself.

But, the biggest tradition is of course: Michigan Football. The football program is the driving factor of school spirit and unity among the students. Saturdays pretty much resemble holidays in which the students drop everything to spend the day together and to cheer on their team. Saturday is a day of play where the whole school comes together whether or not they like football.

But is the actual game of football really play? Yes the tailgating on Saturday is “voluntary” (7), “it is free” (8), it is “disinterested” (9), and it is “limited” (9), but what about the actual sport? Huizinga, in Homo Ludens, argues that those qualities listed about football Saturdays are the main characteristics defining what play must be in order to actually be play. Can an organized sport governed by a ruling body, such as the NCAA, really be voluntary and free? I don’t believe so. Even though signing up for the program was a voluntary action, once you are in it you don’t really seem to have much of a say. Even playing the sport, there are tons of rules and regulations that deter you from being truly free. It seems as though the players are servants to the sport rather than players of the game.

All that being said, I still attend the games and root for the school that I love in a sport that I love. I just don’t believe that something so organized and regulated can really be play, or at least fit Huizinga’s definition.


2 thoughts on “The tradition of sport, is it really play?

  1. I actually do think sport is play, but not for the players. I think it’s play for the fans. We “volunteer” to participate in this fun tradition of watching and cheering on our “surrogates” (as Huizinga says in Homo Ludens). It’s also “disinterested” in that we gain satisfaction from watching and nothing else. It is obviously still “limited” in that there is a time and place to watch it – we don’t watch football players in our place of work (at least I hope not). Also it’s “free” in that we choose to do it and it isn’t physically necessary.

    But, yes, I agree that for professional players sport is not play.

    One thing that may complicate what I said in the first paragraph is that I often feel pressured to go to football games because everyone else goes. And I don’t really enjoy it, but I can get into it if I try really hard. So by definition, a person watching the game in the Big House isn’t in the process of play. I think you have to be a true fan to be playing at the time. Your presence isn’t the only prerequisite at a stadium for play.


  2. I agree that sports under the rule of the NCAA is not play. Focusing on football, players do not “play” according to Huizinga’s definition. Football players are working for the university. They receive a scholarship in exchange for their participation in whatever sport they are playing. The university receives the financial reward from the games in which the players participate in.

    I also agree that fans/ spectators of college athletics are “playing”. They follow the guidelines of play set out by Huizinga. If someone who attends a sporting event due to pressure by others and it is not their own decision, I do not believe that those individuals are playing.


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