High on the agenda of a meeting of Big Ten collegiate track and field coaches in Chicago last week was the stark realization that nearly a score of U.S. national amateur running and swimming titles were held by foreigners attending U.S. schools. Understandably, the coaches decided forthwith to try and do something about it. What they decided to do (granted the National Collegiate Athletic Association proved agreeable) was simply to bar the aliens from title competition. "It has gotten to be a joke the way some schools are recruiting overseas," said Coach Charles (Rut) Walter of Northwestern. "We no longer have national championships at all. They are all international. The feeling against aliens in the NCAA's championships is growing fast."
If that's a joke, we fail to see the point. It's been a long time since anyone advocated the tight-closed door as a formula for greatness in this country, and we think the sports arena is a poor place to revive the practice. But our objection to this device of the track coaches for regaining a questionable supremacy in the record books is not only that they would be depriving U.S. sport of a healthy infusion of foreign competition. Nor is it based entirely on a wish to be fair to young students from overseas, whose presence here is productive of far greater rewards in the form of international understanding than any silver cups or ribboned medals. The deeper roots of our objection lie in a basic distaste for the idea of using sport as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
In the continuing seesaw of panic and plenty that has frazzled global nerves since 1945, mankind has turned more and more to the world of sport for surcease and resuscitation. In sport's comprehensible challenges and rewards, in its vital but not mortal climaxes, in its heady stimuli and clean exhaustion, modern man has found a wellspring of strength and eagerness to cope with the uncertainties that lie in wait for him on other fronts. But the world of sport needs no special plea to justify its existence.
In a recent article calling for a realistic system of compensating college footballers Geophysicist Joseph Kaplan, former athletic adviser at UCLA, declared that "the space age is geared to specialization, and there is no room in it for amateurs." Avery Brundage, chairman of the International Olympic Committee, on the other hand, seems equally impatient of professionalism. "You can't," he told a meeting of the Amateur Athletic Union, "make a champion with a subsidy. We must teach our children that the best amusement is that which they create themselves. Then, perhaps, we'll get them out of the bleachers to play the game."
December 22, 1958
Mr. Brundage and Dr. Kaplan are both sports lovers. Both are sincere patriots with the good of the nation foremost in their minds. But we think they are as misled as the college track coaches when they try to confine and channel one of mankind's great modes of expression to a specific purpose, no matter how high its aims. The strength of sport lies most of all in freedom to flex its muscles at will. The U.S. will not sustain its position in the world by doing push-ups or recording titles alone. It will find its greatness only in the free and un-trammeled exercise of its national heritage. The world of sport can play a part in this only if there is room in it for amateurs and professionals alike, for aliens and natives, for the solitary angler on a rocky promontory in the morning mists and the screaming fans at a mid-Manhattan roller derby. As we see it, the world of sports is a wide world located far beyond any tightly closed door.
"The proper study of mankind," wrote Pope, "is man." The proper pursuit of the sportsman, we believe, is sport—wherever and however he may find it.