Should student athletes play on holidays?

The question of whether or not student athletes should play over school holidays comes down to two definitional problems: 1) Of what status is the student athlete? And 2) What role does college sports play for the school and for the community as a whole?

The status question is central because the mere fact that student athletes are performing a school duty when the rest of the student body is on vacation in itself differentiates them. In light of the recent debate about the quasi-employee status of athletes brought on by the attempt by Northwestern football players to unionize, adds an interesting—and subtle—wrinkle to the concept of student athletes as something very different from other students.

There are other students who, because of their positions at Portland State, and other schools across the country, are required to work the occasional odd hour, but school holidays are quintessentially different: Students are forced to forgo, to cut off entirely, the rite of the college student to return home and abandon the dorms for the year’s festivities. One of the last remaining vestiges of youth is severed.

The other question—of what role the student athlete plays in the community—is centered around the idea that sports are themselves an emblem of the holidays. There’s football on Thanksgiving. There’s basketball on Christmas. One has to wonder if the logic for this began because the holidays meant more people home and thus a larger TV audience. Regardless of the origin, the fact that there are more available spectators is nestled near the root of the tradition. It’s like the movies: Sports are part of a larger family gathering, integral to the celebration.

Your opinion of whether student athletes should play over the holidays depends on your interpretation of these two things. The hard-line approach says that student athletes are employees, and ultimately they can decline to play on the holidays. The other standpoint believes student athletes have a certain duty to the community, which playing on the holidays fulfills.

There is a grayer view, though, which says that student athletes are employees, but employees with unique duties, one of which is to show up for work during the holidays. In my opinion, gray is always better than black or white.