Dave Sime, the handsome young U.S. champion sprinter shown at the right with his pretty wife, is neither soft nor lazy. He has therefore more reason than most to resent a charge that American amateur sports are shot through with indolence and impotence. This is a charge frequently made by one of the top spokesmen of U.S. amateurism, Olympic boss Avery Brundage, who voiced it most recently in this magazine only two weeks ago.
Contrasting the low percentage of American Olympic firsts today with the glowing records of a half a century before, Mr. Brundage seems to find equal blame for the decline of U.S. amateur sports in the athletic scholarships that permit the poor student to take part in them and in the spectator enthusiasm that helps make them possible by footing the inevitable bills. Professionalism, the automobile and golf are all drafted as well as serve as minor imps to the biggest Brundage devil of all, the high and mechanized standard of living enjoyed by all Americans.
Everything, Mr. Brundage seems to be saying, would be fine if the clock would just spin backward by about 50 years and amateurs would start running around for the fun of it just as they used to in his day.
It seemed to us at the time that this point of view was essentially that of a nostalgic oldster and that it overlooked a number of pertinent facts. It is, for instance, a fact that others besides Americans have come to enjoy a higher standard of living—a standard that in many cases permits them to run races where formerly they might only have had a chance to run after goats or away from some manorial Simon Legree. It is a fact that careful supervision, training and coaching have at least as much, if not far more, to do with the making of champions than just running for the hell of it. It is a fact also that, while it's nice to run and play, there is living and working to be got on with as well.
February 16, 1959
We were just pondering these facts when a letter came to us signed Dave Sime, a name that must raise a certain degree of optimism even in the gloomy heart of Mr. Brundage. Dave had a good deal to say about what Mr. Brundage had said, and since he was talking not as a retired warrior reminiscing on forgotten battles but as a young soldier on the firing line, we think his words are worth repeating.
"Rather than condemning the American athlete and the high standard of living in our society," writes Sime, "we should examine the problems facing the amateur. The fact is that the auto is here to stay and kids aren't going to walk when they can ride, so let's be more constructive and go to the heart of the problem. The reason the United States is falling behind is because the Amateur Athletic Union is falling behind. The rules governing American amateurs are still those which took Jim Thorpe's medals away in 1913.
"There is an entirely different set of standards in Europe, where athletes are allowed many privileges which are strictly prohibited to American amateurs. They are often given jobs which permit them time off for training or allowed to maintain a radio or a television program. In Russia, athletes are subsidized completely, but what American athlete, unless he is independently wealthy, can afford to take several summers off from his job? What distance runner can put in four or five hours of training a day and still keep a job and perhaps support a family? In track, the wife of an athlete cannot even accompany her husband on a summer tour.
"I am a great believer in competing for the love of competition. I hope that this is made clear by the fact that thus far I have not yielded to professional offers. However, my main obligation is to my chosen profession and to my family. I am not as fortunate as Thomas Jefferson, who diligently served his country for the love of service but had a private fortune to back him up.
"There are today many athletes who are unable financially to meet the demands placed on an amateur by the rules of the AAU. It is not surprising that many of them give up track for a sport such as baseball, basketball or football where they can feel not only the thrill of competition but the security of knowing they can make a living as well.
"If the United States falls behind in amateur athletics it is not because her athletes have lost the desire to work or the will to win," concludes Dave. "Instead of sitting back and making idealistic criticisms, it would be much more practical to reconsider some of our stringent rules on amateurism and let the AAU adapt itself to a changing society."