Publishers Note Why We Play

By Jay D. Prince

I don’t know about you, but the reason I started playing squash was simple—it was a lot of fun. I’d seen it played a little bit when I was very young, and I really didn’t think much of it. I mean, I was a tennis player and the two squash courts at my club in Tacoma, WA, were just indoor backboards as far as I was concerned. But when my college roommate at UC Berkeley transferred to Cornell and came back as a squash player (he too had been a tennis player and miles ahead of me in that game), he invited me to play. So, what the heck.

I was hooked. He handed me a racquet, I found a P.E. class for squash, and 25 years later, here I am.

Our exposure to sports—outside our own personal playing experiences—typically comes from watching professional players in huge stadiums or on TV. And, as we all know, most of what is available to us in the US is professional football, basketball, baseball, hockey and tennis. Sure, there are plenty of others now that our broadcast media offers far too many sports channels on TV, but these are the big five.

Growing up, most of us who watched games on TV latched onto superstar players in our hometowns. For me, it was Steve Largent and Jim Zorn of the Seattle Seahawks, or Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson of the SuperSonics. Their jersey numbers are immortalized in my memory and I always pretended to be one of them in neighborhood pick-up football and basketball games.

But as I got older, I realized more and more that most professional players play for the money and seem to lose sight of what got them into playing their games to begin with. In Seattle, I suppose my first truly jaded experience was when A-Rod chased a historic paycheck by bolting from the Mariners and going to the Texas Rangers for a $252 million contract—something like $100 million more than the next best offer. And why did he say he took it? “It’s not about the money,” pay-Rod said. “I just want to play for a winner and win a Championship.” Cool, except that the Rangers were cellar-dwellers for the duration of his stay because they couldn’t afford any other players.

The point is, what happened to players playing because their games are fun? Because they just love to play? I have no problem with a professional athlete wanting to make as much money as possible given the fact that their careers are likely to be less than 15 years. But at what point is $X million enough and the player can still have fun?

Two hours ago, I watched Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers hold his retirement press conference. Yes, Favre made a lot of money playing football including an estimated $7 million annually from endorsement deals including Wrangler Jeans. But what struck me most about Favre throughout his career was the passion with which he played the game. After bad plays he was visibly upset; after great plays he danced up and down on the field, fist pumping, and grinning ear to ear like a 5-year-old. Who couldn’t help but love that about him? How many players do you recall seeing walk off the field with a grin from ear-to-ear after a win or great play, or how about a player who looked nearly despondent after a loss? Favre was one—because he loved to play the game of football!

The most poignant comment Favre made in his retirement comments was: “If I have to be remembered for my statistics, then I did something wrong along the way.” Why? Because he was so much more than his numbers. He was an ambassador for the game of football, and he should be an ambassador for all of sports.

With iconic figures in sports like Favre, how can we not enjoy every minute we have on the squash court?