By Wayne William Cipriano
There was a time, not too long ago, when athletes worked for a living, trained in their spare time, paid their own expenses, and competed against other similarly supported amateurs for the honor of representing their country every four years at the Olympic Games. They were easily differentiated from professionals.
Athletes who were supported by their sports, who collected money or other compensation for participating were barred from Olympic competi-tion because they were and are, professionals.
Some of us remember Jim Thorpe, possibly the greatest all-around athlete of all time, who competed in the 1912 Olympics, and was the first person to have ever won the Pentathlon and Decathlon at the same games. Later, Thorpe had his gold medals recalled because he had been paid a few dollars once, not for any track or field performance, but for a season as a semi-professional baseball player!
Things have really changed, haven’t they? Maybe it is just me but I think I can put a mark down when the shift from “amateur athletics” to “who cares” occurred.
Of course it is true that some countries, most notably East Germany, fielded athletes and teams that were so far beyond amateurism and natural human ability, near cyborgs actually, that natural amateur athletes competing against them were virtually helpless. Could other countries have continued to observe the regime of natural amateur athletics? Sure, as long as those athletes competing “cleanly” and the countries they represented were willing to accept the moral victories their 5th or 8th or 12th place medal count would bring them.
It is not very surprising that hyper-nationalism, so long polluting sports competition, has finally torn away even the mask of amateurism.
Many might dispute this, but in my view the tipping point was when the Dream Team, composed of so many well-known professional basketball players, was sent most ignominiously to represent the United States of America several Olympic Games ago. The victories accrued by the Dream Team were uninterrupted and the level of “competition” so well characterized by the sight of their opponents so assured of defeat, gathered around the Dream Team during warmup to collect autographs. That was the end of the Olympic Spirit for me.
I have always been an amateur athlete, slowed way down now by age, but still nurturing that drive to do it perfectly just once before I quit, but I don’t watch or follow the Olympic Games any longer.
Professionals are not only allowed to compete but are enticed to do so to win more medals for their home, or adopted, country, build the potential tourist/fan income for the host country and enhance the television network revenues for international companies. Yes, the level of perfor-mance in each event is no doubt raised, but is the damage to the concept of amateur athletics worth it?
I get it, it is all about the money, right? But what about the last real holdout for amateur athletics, collegiate sports? Athletes forbidden to accept any compensation at all besides educational assistance in exchange for the gazillions of dollars in sports revenues they bring to their universities? Is this a last lonely triumph for the amateur athletic spirit of competition? Nope. It is just university machines too cheap to share any of the cash their athletes bring home.
Hey, it’s life, that’s all. I should just get used to it. But just like an Olympic flame burning three feet above ground level, it still really burns my _______ .