For the love of the game?

A couple months ago, I was sitting at Mike’s in Davis Square, and there was a baseball game playing on the TV set. It was the middle of the day, and a few customers (plus the cashier) were watching it. It took me a couple of minutes to realize these adults were yelling at a game played by children — children who weren’t their own.

A quick Google search submerged me in the complex world of “Little League,” almost the same as adult baseball — except that the players are children. While movies like the “The Sandlot” (1993) and “The Bad News Bears” (1976) were dubbed and played constantly — at least twice a day for weeks, sometimes in a row — on Latin American television, I had never understood the kid’s game as an adult obsession.

I must admit to be a biased author. Sports fanaticisms are not outside of the context of my life — my family is so obsessed with football (the one you kick with your foot) that my uncle is the host of a longstanding radio show that discusses the Estudiantes de la Plata’s performance and its internal politics. Still, it remains something that I look at from the distance. But this isn’t a comment against fan bases or even how boring and confusing baseball is. I don’t think I am being unreasonable when I question the intense participation of children in the monetized event.

Sports are fun and can promote health, competition and family relations. It’s healthy to encourage kids and young adults to participate in them. What surprises me is the degree to which the media and public give youth sports their attention. In the West, we try to hold up the sanctity of childhood. It is a period to be naïve and pure, a period to play, enjoy and learn. The viewership and media involvement behind Little League indicates a pressure and training that goes far beyond sport for fun. I don’t think it’s incredibly far off to equate Little League with child labor, as the league is a large source of profit.

While college students are not children — most are at an age to be productive members of the labor force — college sports, primarily football (the one with the oblong ball), stump me similarly. It took me some time to understand that college football is played, well, by college students — students who are supposed to be like me, with overwhelming classes and midterms. In Latin America, professional soccer players usually are recruited through youth club teams, not academic institutions. There is a separation in functionality between institutions intended for education and training and those that manage monetized competition.

College sports are often seen a conduit towards professional athletic careers, not necessarily the access to a college education. Of course, this is a generalization. The heavy recruitment of players by certain universities allows higher education scholarship to be accessed through impressive sport performance — and not just good grades. Still, the idea that these institutions offer the recruited an “education with an emphasis on their public sports performance” stands.