Amateurs – Inexperienced, unprofessional, unskilled, unqualified, untrained, untaught, part-time, jackleg, weekend warrior, dilettante and non-professional.
“Amateur” is often used as a put down to demean any effort that does not compare to a high level of accomplishment. So who are the amateurs?
In the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, of which we have substantial record, all the participants were both professional and amateurs. Usually sponsored by their city state with training provided by the military, as all most all the athletes were soldiers.
Often the cost of their training was underwritten by a fellow wealthy aristocrat and sometimes by an athletic entrepreneur who gambled that he could make a great deal of money by gambling on his protégé.
The winner, and there was only a winner, no silver or bronze medals, received a laurel wreath in recognition of his victory. (And it was always a him although at one early game, a woman snuck in and won. After that competitors competed naked so there would be no question that it was a him.)
“The rewards to the victor were substantial.“
Most were fed for the rest of their lives at the expense of the city-state and there were obviously monetary rewards because many victors had statutes of themselves erected at the Olympic game site.
Also, all of the athletes were aristocrats, so had independent means. No slaves or plebeians were allowed or could afford the training necessary. Many of the Roman gladiators were professionals and slaves. The winner didn’t get a laurel wreath, but got to fight another day and in a few cases won their freedom. Of course the losers didn’t get a second chance.
When Baron De Coubertin founded the modern olympics in 1896, he was dedicated to enshrining his erroneous vision of the ancient olympics and, as an aristocrat, thought that being paid was demeaning to the ideal of the gentleman athlete.
This began the long and sometimes hypocritical tug between amateur and professional.
If you were, according to his lights, a professional athlete, you were not a gentleman. This mirrored the English attitude that gentlemen did not engage in commerce at all. It was shameful to have to “earn” a living. This was also mirrored in the military ethos of the time. The second and succeeding sons of the aristocrats entered either the military or the clergy as the oldest inherited the family title and money and so the younger sons had to find a means of support. They could not go into “trade”, for if they did, they would lose their social position.
Rugby touts itself as “a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen”. The put down of soccer was that it was “a gentleman’s game played by hooligans”. So it’s natural that the tension between the gentlemen players and the poorer players would result in the early conflict over amateur and professional. As a rugby player must be tough and big, the need for the burly commoner, big as a horse and strong as an ox, became a necessity.
But how could they afford the travel and expense of competition and the loss of wages?!
Interestingly, and it should come as no surprise, American baseball adopted the idea of professional players in 1868! By 1886, the rugby issue reached a head, and rules defining professional were codified. This led to a split between the righteous amateurs and the pragmatic professionals and the founding of a separate governing body for each, which excluded one from the other.
The effects of De Coubertin prejudice continue to this day. The reality of the high level of training necessary for success in any sport is a huge economic burden. For the mainstream sports, Football, baseball and basketball, the solution has evolved with the college athletic programs. Of course there are programs for minor sports, and Title IX has played a part in parcelling out money to women sports. The huge revenues generated by mainstream college athletics make lie of the “ideal” of the players being anything other than professionals.The fact that “scholarships” underwrite the food and lodging and almost as an afterthought, tuition, is a method of securing the services of the athletes for what some have characterized as” slave wages”.
The US Olympic committee, as has every ambitious country, has set up various training venues to help American athletes train and prepare for international competition. But I remember when Michael Phelps was arrested for DWI some years ago, and in the middle of his dominance of amateur swimming, that he was driving a Cadillac Escalade. He obviously didn’t pay for that by teaching toddlers how to swim at the summer community programs.
The tribulations of Chloe Smith, the young athlete from Crowley who won her division at the CrossFit games last year illustrate the problems with this artificial dichotomy. She cannot compete for money at the games, as she would lose her amateur status in every other sport and any chance for a college scholarship. Yet she still has to train and pay for travel and the other costs of competing. To add insult to injury, I am told, her new high school coaches refuse to allow her to take time off from training in their sports to train for the regionals.
So what are we? Are we the dreaded incompetents? Paying our money to be a Monday morning player. AMATEURS ughh! Even our coaches are not professional athletes, although they may have the skills necessary.
What we should know is that “amateur” is not a bad word. We are not paid to compete or train or show up. Some of us, and I’m looking at the man in the mirror, really suck at the skills that CrossFit demands. Some are astoundingly gifted at some things but not others. Usually the split is between the lifters and the gymnasts. It doesn’t matter. We do this because we love all or some major part of it. The root origin of the word amateur is amour, or love.
“If we are at the box consistently and long term, we are true amateurs.”
Many of the professionals are true amateurs. They love the game. Tom Brady in football, Valentino Rossi in motorcycle racing are two that I know that continue to engage in their sport, well beyond the age and years of their contemporaries. They don’t need the money but they will miss, when the day comes, the love of competition, the relief of survival and the thrill of winning.
We are blessed, because we can compete with ourselves, revel in having competed a difficult WOD, know that we are working our bodies to perform feats that few of our peers can match and above all, share that effort with friends who motivate us when we tire, cheer us when we finish and understand what we have accomplished.
We are the lovers, the TRUE AMATEURS.
-Don Richard CFSL