Keeping Up With The Joneses- Leisure Time

Written by: Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  August 31, 2012

As most people amongst my social networks know, the Matrix Trilogy is one of my all-time favorite movie series.  In the Matrix Reloaded, there is a statement made by character called the Merovingian who questions the priorities of man in relation to necessity, willingness, and desire.  In a simple yet powerful inquiry he asks, “Who has time? Who has time?  But if we do not ever make time, how can we ever have time?”  I like this quote very much and find it instrumental to exploring the next topic of our blog:

Leisure Time:  Sports as Recreation, Amateurism in Sports, Professionalism in Sports

I am a track & field athlete.  I practice with my team 3 days a week and do a personalized workout promoting strength, endurance, technique, and posture every day.  Every once in a while a Curious George walks up to me asking my profession.  They either phrase this question as, “are you a professional athlete?” or, “What do you do [that allows you to be out here so often]?”

These questions may appear simplistic but they are drenched with historic value.  Their phrasing is interlaced with sociological, capitalistic, and political undertones.  (See previous blog for definition and usage of sociology, capitalism, and politics).  What they imply is that I am a person with time to spare- I have reached a socio-economic status through a high class profession that affords me the time to spend gallivanting around the track.

From a sociological perspective, what they are saying is that…

  1. I have leisure time
  2. I spend my leisure time doing sports
  3. They classify sports as leisure- a recreational activity

Recreational activities are, by definition, activities designed for entertainment purposes. Ergo, despite my panting, the uh…sweat dripping from my brow, the soreness, the excessive drills, wind sprints, and laps around the track, and a coach yelling across the field, “Knees up! Keep your arms in! Chin down!” they imply that I am engaging in the leisurely activity of sport for my personal entertainment.

(British accent) Yes, *ahem* a 2-mile warm up, 6×20 yard drills, 12x400m w/150 jog in between each, and 1-mile cool down is quite entertaining.  A great way to pass the time.  Indeed.  *looks away* Chip chip cherrio! And all that falderal!

This perspective presupposes that even professional athletes, while on the field, the gym, the court, or the track, are looked upon as individuals engaging in leisurely activities to entertain themselves and those leisurely viewing their performances.

Shocking?  Yes.

Outlandish?  Seemingly.

Accurate?  Sadly yes.

Again, we are dealing with history- old ideas, old perceptions, surviving the times.  The concept of leisure has deep historical roots dating back to the days when the lines between social classes were more rigid.  Ever hear of conspicuous leisure?  It’s a concept created by 19th century economist Thornstein Veblan.  Accordingly,

“Time is consumed non-productively…as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness. But the whole of the life of the gentleman of leisure is not spent before the eyes of the spectators who are to be impressed with that spectacle of honorific leisure which in the ideal scheme makes up his life.”  Read on
Thorstein Veblen, (1899; Ch.3).

Sports according to him is a form of physical exertion and, “all physical exertion that did not lead to an economic end was waste. Therefore, sports were a way for people to display conspicuous leisure, while buying the equipment needed was conspicuous consumption,” (, 2012).   Translation:  Sports is a waste of time and does not contribute to the advancement of society nor the economy.  Harsh no?  A tad out-dated economically, but still very much relevant sociologically.

Why are the thoughts of some old classical dude important?  Because it’s his thoughts and the ideologies of elitist during his time that laid the foundation of sports as leisure and influenced the creation of amateurism and in sports.  It’s these principles and more that conflict with the integration of capitalism in sports.

So who has time?  Who has time?  If we do not ever make time, how can we ever have time?

Veblan would say, time is given to the privileged.  But, in the grand scheme of things, privilege still applies to an elite few.  Many of today’s athletes (myself included) are not given or afforded time.  Most are making time to pursue a profession or fulfill the duties of their attained athletic profession.  So when you see an athlete on the track, they are at work not leisure.

To be continued…

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