I see a trend in the sports world and sports culture that has everything to do with winning as the sole purpose of sports. Sure, I am a product of that culture and so are many of our sports idols. After all, the reason they have the platform that they do is because they win. However, I’m willing to bet that’s not the reason they started playing the game when they were kids. Many of us start that way, just playing the game, not thinking about where it could take us. So what happens when we get to the point when we realize that we won’t be as good as the professional athletes that we see on TV or, simply, burn out from focusing on one sport for most of our childhood? My hope is that we keep playing but with a new, more profound understanding of our role in the sports world: To play for the pure love of the game.
When my grandpa was six years old, he cheered the Cubs on in their 1945 World Series run. Flash forward seventy-one years and there I was on November 2nd, a college freshman, eyes glued to the screen, seeing my grandpa’s life-long dream of seeing the Cubbies go all the way become a reality.
I wasn’t much older than he was when I first started playing baseball. It was my first love, and when I wasn’t playing, I was watching. I used to get up on Saturday mornings and watch whatever games were on. I had my favorite teams, but it didn’t matter much what team was on. For Christmas one year, I received a Sammy Sosa Cubs jersey. It was my most prized possession. I loved Sammy and his patented “home run hop.”
It was disturbing to later find out that all those home runs were probably fueled by steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. As a kid, you look at those players as invincible heroes. When they play for their teams, they also play for you. There is a personal connection that is felt between those fans and players, especially among young sports fans. This is why we get countless viral videos of kids who freak out when they meet their heroes, as well as cry when their favorite player leaves their home team.
Kids know that cheating is inherently wrong. So why do adults do it in professional sports? As the stakes in professional sports increase, so does the mounting pressure to win. When sports are only about winning, then there is something lost in the true meaning of sports and the game is corrupted. Corruption gets even further out of hand when you put money in the mix. Money is a huge motivating factor because professional sports is an entertainment business.
Around the same time the World Series was wrapping up, Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman was quoted as saying, “The [NFL] isn’t fun anymore. This is a game. This isn’t politics.” Right you are, Sherman. His sentiments echo those of fellow NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. who was quoted earlier this season saying, “I’m not having fun [playing] anymore.” Whereas they might be focused on playing the game and having fun, the media and institution of the National Football League are in the money-making business.
Everyone who plays a sport aspires to have fun while playing, whether or not they consciously think it. Even the professionals who make money by honing their athletic abilities and playing in front of millions of people every week know that if they are not having fun playing the game that they love, then the magic is gone. There is an essential aspect of fun in their competition.
At Streetletes, we are about cultivating a community for people who believe in and have the desire to play sports for the pure fun and love of sports. Whether you are just playing on the weekends with friends on a rec team or a collegiate athlete aspiring to play professionally, the Streetletes motto is one to play by.