It is doubtful that fans, officials and participants in U.S. amateur sport have ever been stirred, en masse, to quite the sort of baffled indignation which was set off this month by the publication of the new Olympic amateur oath. Under its terms an Olympic Games competitor must promise to "remain" an amateur, apparently for life. Last week, as officials in Melbourne began sending pledge forms to athletes around the world, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's James Murray, acting as a sort of surrogate for U.S. Olympic athletes, sought out Avery Brundage of Chicago, president and philosopher in chief of the International Olympic Committee, who gallantly took the stand, as follows:
Q Mr. Brundage, you are aware of the uproar over the revision of the Olympic oath. Are the critics correct in blaming you for it?
A Let me tell you the whole story. It begins with the question, "What is an amateur?" Now, the Olympic Games have had the amateur rule since 1896. I didn't write that rule in the first place. But over the years there have been amplifications and amendments. A half dozen years ago we had committees set up to go over all the rules from beginning to end with a view to making clarifications—nothing very substantial but enough to keep the Games in accord with the fundamental principles. Suggestions were had from all member nations, and finally, after the Winter Games at Cortina, the rules were handed to the printer, and here they are.
Q Yes, but did you actually lobby for or author this particular revision?
August 26, 1956
A These deliberations were conducted in French and English, with suggestions from Japan, Russia—all kinds of places. I don't know whether I was or was not the instigator. I certainly supported it, and a letter was written by me over a year ago to all Olympic committees calling attention to the fact it was their duty to screen out those athletes who intended to turn professional.
Q What do you hope to accomplish with this oath?
A We hope to save the Olympic Games. Do you know the ancient Olympic Games collapsed because of the same things that are happening here today?
Q How does this oath save the Games?
A Do you realize it would be impossible to hold the Olympic Games without the enormous contribution of time and money by committee members all over the world? Now, if the Olympic Games become—as many of our universities and institutions of higher learning have—merely training camps for professional promoters, how are we going to persuade these men to continue to give their time and energy—and money? The U.S. is one of the few countries where the expense is borne by the general public. But if someone comes to you 10 years from now and wants a $1,000 contribution to the Olympic fund, what are you going to do when you know that the Olympic Games have just become breeding grounds creating international champions so professional promoters can make fortunes on them?
Q I see. In other words, you'll tell him to get it from the ice show promoter or the pro football league president?
A Precisely. And that is a phase of it that should be underlined.
Q It would seem, then, that you're looking at this oath strictly from the point of view of the Olympic or AAU official but not from the point of view of the athlete.
A What other point of view can you have? The Olympic Games are for amateurs. Each national federation governing each sport all over the world has an amateur rule. It is quite generally agreed that the minute a man decides he is going to become a professional he is a professional. Isn't that logical?
Q Not entirely.
A Look, the amateur is one who participates and always has for the pure pleasure of the sport. Once a person decides he is going to become a professional he is not participating purely for pleasure. It seems to me that it is Q.E.D. that he is no longer an amateur. His main objective is to be a successful professional.
Q Mr. Brundage, do you consider professional sport dishonorable?
A (snorting) Of course not! That's nonsense. Professional sport is just as honorable a pursuit as banking or the law, and most of it is pretty well policed now.
Q Good. Now, let us suppose for argument that Mickey Mantle is a sprint champion in school. Let's suppose he is able to run the 100 meters in 10.1 and has made the Olympic team. He is the fastest man in the country, and you agree he is entitled to be on that team. But let's suppose Mickey Mantle has taken a canvass of his potentialities and decided for one reason or another he could not become a doctor or a lawyer or even a plumber. But he can become a professional baseball player. Being sprint champion isn't going to help him make the New York Yankees. He has to succeed on merit the same as he would if he tried to get through medical school. Why should he either a) be deprived of his rightful place on the Olympic team or b) be denied the right to choose the profession for which he is best suited?
A (thoughtfully) I can read you the rule which says a professional in one sport is a professional in all sports. That's been in the rule books for years.
Q But do the other countries which have no comparable situations realize that professional baseball is a career and a highly rewarding one and that in the hypothetical case we have raised you are depriving the athlete of some fundamental rights? If you agree that baseball as a career equates with law or banking, why not forbid a boy from entering law or banking?
A The answer is we don't forbid him from entering anything. We simply do not want him in the Olympic Games if he is a professional. But the question you have raised is very pertinent. That question has not been brought up before and it has not been answered. You have no idea of the ramifications of this when you have 20 different questions relating to the same rule and 20 different countries viewing it differently. Why, do you know we have been asked to rule on whether a man who drives a racing car professionally is eligible. What would you say to that?
Q He's a pro, by your definition.
A Yes, but it is argued that he is effectively a mechanic testing an engine. What then? Actually, though, the thing we are most concerned with is an athlete capitalizing on his Olympic fame.
Q What about the boy who will cynically sign the oath knowing full well he is going to turn pro? Doesn't the boy with a sense of honor get penalized unfairly because he will refuse to sign the oath?
A Fortunately or unfortunately, amateurism is a thing of the spirit. You can make a rule book 10 times as thick as the one we now have and not solve the problem. The answer is down inside the individual. It is a matter for the boy's honesty or conscience. And when institutions of higher learning have to censure themselves for not adhering to their own codes of athletics you cannot blame the boys for being bewildered. It is a question of just how much the moral standards of the whole country are affected by these abuses. But a stand has to be made somewhere, and we realize that to carry on an idealistic program in a realistic world is a tough undertaking. When that pledge is signed, the signer either intends to become a professional or he does not. All we say is that if he does then he does not belong in the Olympic Games.
Q But still, if he can run faster or jump higher than anyone else, why shouldn't he be in the Olympics?
A Because he doesn't belong there! Let him join the circus.
Q Why do you think the International Olympic Committee has the right to dictate to a young athlete what he should do with his future life?
A We have no such right. We only have the right to run the Olympic Games, and what is our business is what happens to the Olympic Games. Just because other people have warped standards is no reason why we should.
Q Did you anticipate the almost 100% negative reaction on the part of athletes, coaches, Olympic officials and fans?
A The question applies only to the U.S. It has not been denounced universally. After all, we are only one of 80 countries. And even here in the U.S.—why, just because your opponent makes the most noise doesn't mean everybody disapproves along with him.
Q Do you still believe the revision is fair or have you done some second thinking?
A I can see and will admit that in the existing climate of amateur sports there have been many people who have been shocked to find there still remain a few amateur standards. I will say that the protest of the American Olympic Committee is legitimate in that, while ignorance of the law is normally no excuse, they really went into the preparation of the American Olympic team without taking this oath into consideration and they now have a team which it may be difficult to replace if it is broken up. But my last year's letter went out to them, so they should have known.
Q Did you as a young man ever have to face this problem, which is essentially a financial problem for the athletes involved?
A That is the old question of this multimillionaire Brundage who sits on top of his moneybags and never had knowledge of privations in his youth. The facts are, I went to college on borrowed money, and what money I have made I earned myself—as an amateur.
Q Well, actually, your main point is that you or your committee is unwilling to undergo a lot of backbreaking work, take a lot of time and energy and even bring whole governments into the picture in order to provide an international showcase for boys who will convert it into personal gain. But aren't you overlooking the fact that, in reality, the countries involved derive huge benefits in terms of tourism and reams of international publicity? The Olympic site is sort of put on the map, isn't it?
A That's true. Why do you think there are 20 cities bidding for it?
Q Well, don't you think that the boys make possible that kind of tangible benefit for the cities involved, and isn't it a small thing to grant them the right to convert their talent into money later on?
A You are overlooking the boys who are genuine amateurs, who are in the Olympic Games for the love of it. The only reward an amateur gets is his brief glory as champion, and he shouldn't be deprived of it by somebody who is going to make a business of what he is doing. If you stage the Games for the professionals, you are not keeping faith with the amateurs, and the Games—under the Olympic ideal—are staged for amateurs. Why should the Games become a vehicle to line somebody's pockets?
Q But haven't you seen where a star football player looks up at 100,000 people who have come to watch him play and wonders why he shouldn't gel in on that revenue? Won't the Olympic athlete want some consideration, at least the right to turn pro? After all, officials derive benefits, trips to meetings and the Games themselves.
A The boys get the trip, too. No, it is not the same thing. But you can say this of college football, and it will shock some people, coming from Avery Brundage. I think college football players should be paid. The present college football situation cheats the player by diverting too much time from his studies and making hard work of a game that should be fun. Any institution which takes advantage of its students' loyalty and exploits them for gate receipts is engaging in a swindle and ought at least to be made to pay the boys. The trouble is—one of the reasons there are all these questions you are asking—that there is no literature on the subject of amateurism in sport. I advocate that every educational institution have courses in amateurism. It would be a better country if they did.
Q But how do you define amateurism? These countries which you say are so strongly for it have no comprehension of the situation in the U.S., do they? If their athletes had the same opportunity to turn their abilities into big money they would probably trample their officials in a rush to get in on it, wouldn't they?
A You must remember that we are not dealing with inconsequential people on the International Olympic Committee. My predecessor in this position was also president of the International Chamber of Commerce. Our member in Denmark is Prince Axel. These are people of substance. They are not children.
Q Perhaps that is the trouble. Perhaps they have ideas on sport which are holdovers from the days when it was the exclusive recreation of an aristocracy which was not only socially elect but also had all the money and security it wanted. Maybe they don't understand the problem of a champion runner who comes from a cotton farm.
A That charge has been leveled at the committee—that there are too many princes and millionaires on it. I don't hold with it. These are intelligent people who understand the problems of the modern world as well as you or I. Half of them are ex-Olympic competitors or champions themselves.
Q Why did you or the committee wait until publication of the I.O.C. deliberations in Paris to let news of the new oath get out?
A A warning was sent out a year ago, and that should have been sufficient. See here, let's assume the new wording was not used at all. Under the rule which has been in effect for 50 years, an amateur who intends to turn professional is not really an amateur and not eligible for the Olympic Games at all. We have not redefined amateurism. The athlete does not now pledge never to turn professional. He says that it is not his present intention. No one knows what he will do five years from now. But I say that the minute a boy becomes an "aspiring" professional he becomes a professional. From the moment he decides to become a pro he is a pro. And he does not belong in the Olympic Games competing with those who are and intend to remain amateurs. It's that simple.
Let me tell the whole story. It begins with a question, "What is an amateur?"
Amateurism is a thing of the spirit.... It is a matter for the boy's conscience. The question you have raised is very pertinent...and it has not been answered. Just because other people have warped standards is no reason why we should. And it will shock some people.... I think college football players should be paid.
A professional does not belong in the Olympic Games.... It's that simple.