game [geym] n. 1. A way of amusing oneself; a pastime; diversion. 2. A sport or competitive activity. From a Germanic root meaning, “to enjoy.”
When I was a kid following the careers of athletes like Hank Aaron, the Esposito brothers and Pete Maravich, I never had a thought about how much money any of them made; they were entertainers! And I still have no interest in profitability, risk management or labor relations, but can’t I still be a sports fan? Every time I see a list of Major League Baseball salaries, I think what would happen if a list of the salaries of the people who work in my office was posted there. Chaos!
The love of money — real or longed for — affects sports in many negative ways:
- How do we justify the concept of a five-hour pregame show for a three-hour game? Advertising $$$.
- Why is it common in virtually all sports for fundamentals to be discarded in favor of playground strutting and dancing? Endorsement $$$.
- Why do parents shove their eighteen-month-old children onto a field, wearing a uniform even before they have ever picked up a ball? Why scream asinine instructions to your seven-year-old (“Kick it hard!”) while he’s playing a game you don’t even know the rules for? Scholarship $$$.
I love to pass by a ballfield and see kids playing on it — without uniforms and without adults. A kid learns to love a sport by playing it when he wants to, where he wants to, for as long as he wants to (used to be until dinner was ready or until it got dark). Then, if he really likes a particular sport, and gets to be pretty good at it after playing with lots of different older and younger kids, using half the field at a time and making the equipment last as long as possible with tape and string, she might even think about joining a team. That can be a serious step, because it means playing with strangers as well as your friends, and having to start and stop when someone tells you, and no special home field rules (“If the ball gets stuck under a car, it’s a double.”) and practice.
Joining a team also means that people will come just to watch, and then you’re not just playing, you’re performing; and it’s not just a game anymore, it’s a competition.
When my son was ten or twelve years old and playing recreational soccer, I got a bit caught up in the “competition” part. I was exasperated by the lack of effort displayed by his teammates, so I asked him if he wanted to join a team with players who came to all the practices and were interested in working to get better. He looked at me a bit confused and said, “Dad, I want to play with my friends.”
It’s good to remember every once in a while that the root of both definitions above is “to enjoy” and just let the kids play.