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Why they play: love vs. money

The Signal spoke to athletes to find out what drives them

Posted: August 20, 2013 9:07 p.m.
Updated: August 20, 2013 9:07 p.m.
A survey of Santa Clarita Valley athletes showed that 77 percent of them have thought about playing of money. A survey of Santa Clarita Valley athletes showed that 77 percent of them have thought about playing of money.
A survey of Santa Clarita Valley athletes showed that 77 percent of them have thought about playing of money.

In the popular 1996 movie, “Jerry Maguire,” the title character is a big-time sports agent who begins to question the entire business of professional sports.

There’s a scene where Maguire asks his professional football player client, Rod Tidwell, to “think about back when you were a little kid. It wasn’t about the money, was it? Was it?”

Actually, it was in part.

According to a survey of Santa Clarita Valley athletes in different sports and at different schools, 77 percent of them have at least thought about playing for money at some point.

But that hardly tells the entire story.

When asked why they continue to play sports now, most also responded by saying that money is not a major motivation, nor will it be going forward.

The most common response for why they play?

“Because I love it.”

And the answers didn’t vary much between different sports and genders. The Signal polled 43 athletes, girls and boys, who either currently play or used to play in the SCV. The survey covered football, basketball, baseball and softball players.

Even Valencia graduate Jordan Taylor, who plays softball professionally, says it’s not about the money.

For her, she just wanted to keep playing the sport as long as she possibly could. If it pays enough to live off of, so be it.

“I love it. I can’t see myself doing anything else,” said Taylor, who is a pitcher for the USSSA Pride softball team of the National Pro Fastpitch league. “There’s no feeling like stepping on that mound. I haven’t found a duplicate feeling. Outside of softball, I’m a very shy, introverted person. People who face me don’t know that.”

Growing up, Taylor said the idea of playing sports for a living never entered her mind.

For now, she’s making a few thousand dollars playing for the USSSA Pride during the summer and supplementing that income by playing pro softball in Japan.

But even making enough money “to pay the bills,” as she puts it, is enough to create the allure of turning pro.

Seventy percent of the female athletes surveyed said they have at least entertained the thought of getting paid to play.

And most of them say that while acknowledging the fact that they won’t make the potential multi-million dollar salaries of pro football, baseball or men’s basketball players.

So why the desire to play in the big leagues?

“I want to influence other people,” said Valencia basketball player Sandra Ikeora. “The money just becomes a bonus.”

But the draw to men’s sports is different.

Multiple male athletes in the survey talked about, “The dream.”

According to a Forbes report, three of the major sports leagues in the U.S. — NBA, MLB and NFL — paid its players average salaries of $5.15 million, $3.2 million and $1.9 million, respectively, in 2012.

Not only that, but player salaries are heavily reported when prominent players sign high-dollar contracts.

The money and the fame provide a constant draw for some athletes.

“It was right around that time I started watching Major League Baseball and I really thought that would be amazing to play in front of thousands of fans and in a big stadium,” said former Golden Valley High baseball player Billy Fredrick. “I thought that would be really fun.”

Fredrick, who is headed into his freshman season playing at UC Santa Barbara, said he first thought about playing in the pros at age 8.

And that’s about the standard age to start dreaming of the big-time, according to the survey.

The majority of a group of Canyon varsity basketball players admitted they had thought of playing for cash.

Almost none of them said that’s the main reason they still play.

“To be the best you can be,” said one Canyon player, Ben Taufahema, on why he puts in all the extra work in the gym.

He said the thought of playing in the NBA still lingers to some degree, but it’s more about the joy he gets from playing the game.

And for the most part, that’s the case among a select group of athletes from the SCV.

At a younger age, a lot of kids start out with dreams and hopes of grandeur.

But the big money and the big fame isn’t what keeps them going in the long run.

For most of them, it’s about much more.



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