You just have to take an active role in any situation even loosely comparable to a game. Leading companies can expect to be called 'major players', as can their executives. It's all a long way from the origins of the word in the Old Dutch verb pleyen, meaning to 'jump for joy'. The new idiom, first recorded in the Economist in 1986, stems from 'playing' the market as one plays the casino: from the 1930s, speculators were known as 'players'. Some, however, prefer to derive it from American black speech of the 1950s, in which a 'player' was any kind of cunning operator. But 'player' is a term with many other meanings. To British soldiers in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, 'players' were terrorists.
To male New Zealanders in the 1950s, a 'player' was an available woman. At other times, it has meant a male prostitute, pimp or promiscuous person. Not always something to boast about, then.