Playing for What?

In Good Game, one of the things Shirl Hoffman emphasizes about “good” sport is that play is “autotelic”: that is, it is its own reward, its own end. The joy is in the playing. But this is also one of the features that has been most distorted and forgotten in the athletic-entertainment complex which has instrumentalized sport for all sorts of misbegotten ends such as commerce, domination, self-aggrandizement, and usually all three combined.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this instrumentalization more powerfully than Nike’s new World Cup ad in which the world’s football great are shown to be motivated by either the quest for glory or the fear of shame. Rooney and Ronaldo are (probably correctly) portrayed as playing for the acquisition of women and wealth and worldwide adulation–goods external to the game itself. The commercial is a case study in everything Hoffman shows is wrong with sport.