Learn about Life in the 1920s

The Changing Face of Amateur Sport - 1922

THERE are two insidious "borers" continually gnawing away at our amateur athletics. One of them is the "money-making bug" and the other the "spectacle bug." Both bugs are of the same family. The first is easily recognizable. He is entirely at home in all professional athletics. As far as that goes, so is the other borer. You make a spectacle out of athletic contests as a general rule to make money, and the professional manager and athlete are both striving first, last, and always to stage a spectacle that people will pay money to see.

But professional athletics are not the subjects that we have in mind in the present discussion. It is on the amateur athletic field that the youth of a nation grows and develops, and it is of extreme importance that the growth be mental and moral as well as physical. Furthermore, it is important that the influence of amateur athletics be as widespread as possible, so that all the nation's youth may participate in them. The element of money-making and the making of amateur sport a spectacle rather than a means of bringing about a general joining in the games takes away a great part of the benefit that athletics can, when properly fostered, bring to the nation as a whole. To have a few play and a great many look on is a bad thing — bad for those who are playing and doubly bad for those who are looking on.

Far better are the mass gymnastics and setting-up drills of the European nations, where ten, fifteen, and twenty thousand people at one and the same time engage in co-ordinated physical exercises, rather than that towards which we are rapidly tending in this country a few crack athletes, trained to the last possible degree of condition and skill, and whipped up to the highest pitch of human endeavor, and staging a public spectacle of athletic competition to which a high price of admission is charged and which is attended by thousands who themselves take no exercise other than the physical labor of egging on by their shouts and cheers the contestants to greater effort.

Amateur sport should not be permitted to become a money-making enterprise. Neither should it be permitted to become a public spectacle. Either of these two elements spoils it. What amateur athletics should encourage is as widespread participation as possible in good clean sports and games. The more who engage in the games the better. Moreover, each participant should learn by precept and example that the first thing is to play the game for the game's sake, and to play it clean — to play to win, of course, but always subject to the first two requirements ; and that to play any game solely to win — in other words to make the result the ultimate object — is a fatal mistake.

Amateur athletics are becoming badly commercialized — right down through the college into the preparatory schools. Unless you stop to look over our amateur athletics as they are at present, you do not realize for a moment to what lengths this commercializing has gone. Take any of our colleges throughout the country and see what their balance sheets show as to the receipts from their football and baseball contests with other colleges. Then go to any of these college games, see the crowd that attends, appreciate what they are thinking about, see how the contestants are keyed up to the highest pitch in an effort to win and justify themselves in the eyes of their supporters. Then stop a minute and realize how very few of the college students actually participate in these games, and how very few of those who go to see the games ever themselves do anything else in an athletic way, and you will get a pretty clear insight into the unfortunate trend that our athletic sports have been taking the last twenty years.

It has come to the point where colleges are not content to confine their contests to their own state or section. Instead, they stage dramatic, ticket-selling contests with colleges from distant parts, and these are all carefully and enthusiastically featured and written up in the papers until the competitive and spectacular is brought so strongly to the front that the game itself becomes far more like going to watch paid performers than what it should be --- a good clean afternoon of sport between young men who want to win, who try to win by every honorable means, but who are thinking first of all of the fun of the game and of their reputation as gentlemen and thoroughbreds.

Cut out all public sale of tickets to games; admit to these contests only the students and the college and school graduates and families ; restrict the competition to games among little circles of schools and colleges located near each other, and extend in every way the type and number of contests so that class teams, junior teams, and the like are all brought into intercollegiate competition and as many students as possible who are sound of body get a chance to compete on some team or other. Amateur sport should be our greatest factor in producing a nation of well men, of square and fair men, who appraise their athletics at their proper worth and carry into civic life the lessons learned on track and field and water. It should be indulged in and continued along proper lines through middle and even into what we now call old age, always as a sport, always as a training and conditioning of body and mind. We should never permit it to become commercialized to the point where the few are exploited to make a spectacle for the many and where the games become a source of financial revenue rather than a school of sport and exercise.

Source: Commonwealth-Atlantic News, 1922