There is no denying that the dynamics of sports has changed, especially those of spectator sports. The drive, the purpose, even the rules are different. The pleasure of the sport has switched from the players to the spectators. Athletes, Eric Dunning contends, are no longer playing to “play,” rather, “display.” They are playing for others, and what others might want to see and not necessarily playing for themselves. This isn’t a bad thing per se, however it does mean there are different reasons to participate and different forms of play which brought about the distinction between amateur a professional sports.
I can not speak for the sports that draw big crowds namely basketball and football, but I can add a little on “non-spectator” sports, specifically cross country and track. Despite the differences of skill and appeal, cross country and football, as well as all other sports, do have something in common; and that is the drive for excellence and success. In the last few decades, sports have generally switched from a leisurely activity, to a ruthlessly competitive job. The “fun” aspect is still there, but the fun no longer comes from just playing, it comes from the glory and the pride. They are going for the gold, or for the record, or the crowd-screaming reaction.
I have been running for several years through middle school and high school, but it wasn’t until this year, the transformation to collegiate running, that I realized how serious this sport actually is. High school track was fun and had very little stress. It was, as Dunning would say, amateur. Running for the University of Michigan is a job, it carries a professional tone. My coach before every practice says, “another day in the office boys,” and warns us to come across the line at a race like “we’re taking care of business.” “Business” and “office” don’t sound like fun words. We are here for a reason, and that is to represent Michigan and win. We aren’t racing “for the fun of it” or “just because,” its for the glory of winning and competing against others. We keep rivalries rolling and the intensity high not for the individual, but for the rallying support of the team and on the rare occasion, the fans.
Despite not being a spectator sport, cross country still holds the same motivation as football. We race for our team mates, and our coach, and even family back home. We are still ruthless competitors that hate the enemy, and get excited when we beat another team. Sports, now a days, are about rankings and finding out who is better than who. Athletes constantly compare themselves to one another because it is the very nature of competition. We need to find out who is the best to keep a driving goal for the top position. I have only been at the University of Michigan for 7 weeks, but I can already tell from meeting all the athletes that they are extremely serious competitors. Seriousness, as Dunning points out in his article, has increased greatly in the past few years. The tone of the sport has almost changed entirely from relaxing and leisurely to serious and structured. When I see University of Michigan athletes in a workout or at practice, they are one hundred percent focused, always striving for new limits.
I could have gotten into running to stay in shape or to socialize with other runners (the amateur side of the sport), but I chose to do this to push my body to its limit and see how far I can go (the professional side of the sport). To be honest, when I race or train, I do it for a very selfish reason. I do it for someone to tell me I am great or to get a jaw dropping reaction when I tell them I can run a four minute mile. It’s exciting for me to come across the line during a personal-best-setting race for the chance that someone might say I am one of the best athletes they have ever seen or for my parents to cry and brag about me in the office. I do love this sport and I participate because I have an interest in it. But when I think about why I have an interest in it, I realize a big part of it is because I am good at it and I am better than someone else, either a N.A.R.P. (non-athletic regular person) or another runner.
I realize this may make me sound bad, but it’s true, and it’s true across all sports. We are playing sports for different reasons now, much different then why we used to play in the past. When sports made this big leap and became people’s careers and lively hoods, the distinction between amateur and professional sports came and truly changed the meaning of why we play. We needed to make that separation so that sports could continue to exist for all people, professionals and amateurs alike. Even if there is no desire to play a sport professionally, it is in human nature that we play and escape from the real world.