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Sports Authority

Klonsinski: Amateurism is a false ideal

| Friday, April 15, 2016

Dear NCAA,

Let me say this as simply as I possibly can:

Amateurism. Is. A. Sham.

At no point in history has amateurism, what you call “a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA” been a thing.

At least, not one you want to be associated with.

Allow me to provide a brief history lesson:

Most people think amateurism began with the original Olympic games, the ones that began in 776 B.C. in Greece.


You see, there were no monetary prizes awarded at the games, but the winners at Olympia won the eternal favor of the gods, a prize beyond any monetary compensation. Additionally, the Olympics were just one of a series of games held between the various Greek city-states (Corinth, for example, hosted a version), all of which awarded amphorae of olive oil, each worth a lot of money, for winning.

Many city-states treated their returning heroes like gods, too: Olympic champions in Athens, for example, received the equivalent of free room and board for the rest of their lives in addition to prizes bestowed upon them by the city-state and leadership roles in the army. Historians and archaeologists have even discovered evidence for a form of free agency in Ancient Greece: certain smaller city-states, for example, won a disproportionate amount of the events during prosperous times and none during less favorable conditions, and names appear as winning different events for different city-states in consecutive years.

So, no, the Greeks weren’t amateurs. In fact, as one of my professors told us in class, they probably would have laughed at the very notion.

So where did this ideal of the ‘amateur’ come from then?

You see, in the 19th century, English (and, to a lesser degree, American) elites decided they wanted to engage in sports on a more competitive level, organizing official competitions, sporting clubs and tournaments to prove their athletic superiority over each other, but especially over the working classes.

One wrench in that plan: The working classes, many who engaged in jobs that strengthened and molded them physically from sunrise to sunset, often could beat elites.

That was a problem because elites were supposed to be so much better than those who toiled all day in the dirty streets and factories that losing wasn’t something they could risk.

So elites simply invented the idea of amateurism: no one could get paid for their athletic performances, whether that be in prize money or sponsors supporting efforts to train for and/or travel to competitions.

Since working class households needed everyone to work from sunrise to sunset in order to, you know, survive, they couldn’t train or take time off for sporting ventures. Amateurism worked like a charm for the elites — they had most of the organized sports to themselves.

Even the modern-day Olympic games — which, thankfully, don’t have that same amateur myth surrounding them anymore — were founded in a false amateuristic sense by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman who idolized the British elite’s system of exclusionary sports.

And so began the idea of playing for the love of the game.

There you have it NCAA. One of your “bedrock principle[s]” is based in classist, elitist thinking dating back to the less-than-amazing British Empire. I hope that makes you feel good about yourselves.

I would love to say that the class barrier was completely broken down over the 20th century (and then the race barrier … and then the gender barrier) and that everything is now perfectly equal and the sporting world just holds hands in a circle as it sings “Kumbaya.” I really would love to say that.

Unfortunately, I know I can’t. And the NCAA is one of the reasons.

Don’t get me wrong, you are just one of the many problems that still exist in today’s sporting world.

But please, enough with this “amateurism” thing.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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