Derek Jeter is arguably one of the best to ever play the game of baseball (just ask any New Yorker), and easily the most respected athlete of modern times. Jeter is the New York Yankees all time hits leader, and has the led the team to a stunning five World Series championships. For his last season, Gatorade ran on ongoing campaign of “respect” and aired the now viral video of baseball fans and players around the nation tipping their hat to him. How could we not help but love this heroic ballplayer, with his kind personality, his respect for everyone, and his unwavering love for the game; the game that was his entire life up until his retirement just weeks ago. But what continously inspired Jeter to play in this renowned fashion? In his essay “Dynamics of Modern Sport”, Eric Dunning argues that as the competitiveness of sports increases, so does the professionalism; thus leaving no room for “fun” in the realm of professional sports. Resultantly, Dunning would argue that our beloved Jeter was working a job rather than playing a game.
The career and acclimates of Derek Jeter are the perfect antithesis to this controversial belief by Dunning. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this direct conflict is by one of his most quoted lines from Jeter’s retirement announcement: “I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward.” Clearly, Dunning’s theory on professionalism in competitive sports had never applied to Jeter as he played the game he loved, the game that was never anything but fun to him.
Dunning also continues to argue that spectators, and their strong expectations, play a significant role in retracting from this play element in professional sports. He claims that as athletes strive to please the audience, they lose focus on the fun aspect of the game. But aren’t there so much more to the games we love then simply awaiting for the players to please us? Don’t athletes who truly play for the game itself gain something from the resolute support and devotion of an audience? Derek Jeter has never been quiet about his love for the state he represented, for the city that motivated him and stuck with him, and always believed in him, the fans that saw him through the twenty long years he dedicated to their beloved team. Almost as a direct contradiction to Dunning’s theory that audiences eliminate play from the game by inundating them with the pressure to perform, Jeter once said “I couldn’t have done it without the people of New York. NY made me stronger, kept me more focused…” also found in his final speech.
The retirement letter of the great and renowned ballplayer, highlighting the unadulterated fun he has always derived from baseball and the great respect with which he regards his fan-base, in fact serves as the perfect counter argument to Dunning and his theories on competitiveness and professionalism. Derek Jeter always has and always will love the game that provided him with such joy and happiness as we can only gain from the purest form of play.