Football is a sport. It is a game. People participate in it because they enjoy doing it. It’s fun.
It’s sometimes too easy to forget this—including for the players—when you’re dealing with the game at the highest level, and when that level is so inextricably interwoven into a business model that has everybody motivated by money.
It was never envisioned when professional football began and scouting talent became necessary that one of the features one would have to look for in a player was somebody who truly loved to play the game, and would do so even if it didn’t promise to make them a millionaire.
Believe it or not, this is not an article about Le’Veon Bell. Instead, we’re talking about T.J. Watt, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year outside linebacker and the younger brother of J.J .Watt. the 2017 first-round draft pick lives and breathes the game, and you can tell both by the way he plays and the way he talks about the game. He actually talks about it being, you know fun.
“I like how we are flying around right now”, he said of the defensive unit after he returned to practice. “That is one of the things I love about playing defense, being able to fly around, have all 11 hats to the ball and just having fun. If you are not having fun, you are not going to be out there giving your best effort and everything. When we’re all on it, we’re a pretty exciting defense”.
Imagine that, insinuating that enjoying the game is a prerequisite of playing it at the highest level. There actually are prominent players who don’t love the game and would not play without the excessive salaries. This will probably only become the case more an more as the salary cap swells.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Football is a game, but the National Football League is a conglomerate of 32 employers, and they hire employees, not football players. You don’t get to play just because you love to play. you have to treat it like a job, and you might as well, because they are looking at you as an investment as any other employee anyway.
This is the world of football that we as fans are detached from, which makes it so difficult to relate. We don’t watch football to see one business face off against another business and evaluate the skill of each business’s employees. We want to watch a game being played.
And that’s why players like Watt and Vince Williams and Roosevelt Nix are fan favorites. They are, essentially, open about their own fandom. They love the game as we do. The only difference—the only difference, surely—is that they actually get to play it at the highest level.