Written By Sherwood Kohn
The word, “amateur” used to connote an independence from money. In the past, athletes prided themselves on their pure passion for sports; for them, money was not only extraneous, but an indication of a certain decadence.
Among amateurs, if you were paid to play, you had lost your enthusiasm for the purity of competition; you were somehow besmirched by the involvement of money. In some circles, to be an amateur was testimony to your virtue as a sportsman; “sportsman” was synonymous with “amateur;” it was a badge of honor, never to be tarnished by filthy lucre.
Flash forward to the 21st century, when amateur athletes are outfitted, fed and transported by corporate money. Sand-lot baseball teams may still be sponsored by a local hardware or grocery store. But now, even some Little Leaguers are underwritten by big-time backers and scouted by professional baseball talent-hunters. Now, the spirit of competition is fostered by multinational corporations, and yes, money – sometimes big money – is an integral part of most team sports.
To be an amateur sportsman today is to be looked upon as a dilettante, someone who is not serious about his sport; an effete toff in knickers, a checkered sweater-vest and two-tone golf shoes.
Not only are race-car drivers’ vehicles and coveralls plastered with the logos of corporate sponsors, but amateur-league ballparks, tennis courts and college sports arenas are often decorated with advertisements for the benefit of local television viewers.
It is characteristic of the times. Big money has altered the many aspects of our society, from spelling bees to politics, and the change is indicative of a deep-seated venality whose symptoms are greed, selfishness and a lack of altruism, not to mention the decline of civility.
In amateur sports, it is still customary for opposing team members to shake hands after a game. But increasingly, everybody just packs up the equipment and goes home. Oh yes, maybe members of the winning team dump a container of Gatorade over their coach. How did I know it was Gatorade? The container was decorated with the drink’s logo so there was no mistaking the brand.
Barring an earth-shaking social change, it does not look as if amateurism will regain its gentleman’s status any time soon. Dog-eat-dog competition is too embedded in most aspects of our lives.