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IDEA OF AN AMATEUR

March 06, 1961
March 06, 1961

Table of Contents
March 6, 1961

Cover
Yesterday
Durocher
Springboks
  • South Africa's Springboks brought their traveling Rugby road show to the British Isles and France, flattened the opposition and left behind a seething controversy. 'They are killing Rugby,' hollered the British Press. 'They are persecuting blacks,' hollered others. The immediate crime: winning

St. Bonaventure
Sporting Look
Underwater Park
Motor Sports
Horse Racing
Acknowledgments
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Pat On The Back

IDEA OF AN AMATEUR

Phil Coleman is an outstanding American athlete. He was a national champion in the one-mile run and the 3,000-meter steeplechase and a member of both the 1956 and 1960 U.S. Olympic teams. Disturbed by the constant bickering over the rightness or wrongness of payments to so-called amateur athletes, Coleman was moved to write this argument for the case of the pure amateur, the lover of sport, the athlete who asks no other reward than the opportunity to compete. His essay is in the form of a reply to Mike Agostini, the runner who calls himself a "shamateur" and whose story ('My Take-home Pay as an Amateur Sprinter,' SI, Jan. 30) began, "I am writing this story on my own typewriter. It was an illegal prize for running...." The fee for Coleman's story has been paid, at his request, to the University of Chicago Track Club.

This is an article from the March 6, 1961 issue Original Layout

I am writing this story on my own typewriter. I paid $50 for it (used), $10 a month until it was paid for. If the money didn't come from my salary as a part-time teacher, it came from my wife's newspaper job. I can't trace the money precisely, but I know that it did not come from any earnings at track meets. I know, because there have been none. I contrast with Mike Agostini, the confessed shamateur, as one who may appear to be the Last of the Mohicans—a simon-pure amateur athlete.

I have not had the much-traveled career that Mike has had—Al Cantello, the Olympic javelin thrower, always refers to him as the Gypsy—and I have never led the world in any of my running specialties. But I've been a member of two Olympic teams, and I've spent several seasons running in the big indoor track meets. Last year I won six major indoor mile races—in Boston I tied the American citizen's indoor record-and yet the $300-$800 fees that Mike mentioned so casually in his story have never come my way. There is a big difference between my track world and Mike Agostini's. I've seldom been offered money in excess of expenses, and I've never felt compelled to take it. I know that many other athletes feel the way I do, and I want to set the record straight.

That amateurism is dying I not only will concede, but affirm, and with as much relief as sorrow. But amateurism has been as workable a system as the one Agostini suggests to replace it.

Wes Santee, the American miler who in 1956 was banned from amateur athletics for life because he accepted money in excess of expenses, was quoted after his fall as saying that the only athletes who aren't getting paid are the ones who aren't good enough. After he reads my story, he may add "or smart enough," and in his own way he'll be right.

I remember running my first board-track mile six years ago. Santee was the principal attraction, and he sprinted out ahead to win easily. Floundering along 40 years behind, I managed to come in second. Third place went to a well-known American distance man, running his last season. I asked him after the meet if he thought I should try the longer races indoors or stick to the mile.

"The mile," he said. "That's where the big money is." I remember not only what he said but how he said it—as if he had bitten into a lemon. I think I know why he was bitter.

Mike Agostini says that running is the important thing in his life. While there have been other important things in my life, I think that here Mike and I are on common ground. Running has meant a minimum of two hours a day for the last 10 years with at least six miles covered in that two hours. Running is a reprieve from my desk, a chance to get some blood back in my legs, take my eyes off a book and focus them on something in the distance. But my workouts alone on the grass roads of the University of Illinois agronomy farms are not the joy of a casual communion with nature, a frolic through the woods. Instead, they are a series of controlled, frantic bursts, interspersed with slow, inward-turning jogs. They are challenges, lessons in self-persecution that make races seem easy.

Competing is important to me in a very different way. Psychologists would probably disagree as to whether I am compensating for an extreme inferiority complex or asserting aggressive tendencies that I can't express otherwise, and both views would be right. But they wouldn't be completely right. The urge to run must surely have instinctive roots that can't be traced. I know that when a race is going well, when I have control of the pace or a comfortable assurance that the race is mine when I want it, I am a 12-foot-tall light-as-a-feather god tasting a vintage wine. And even when things are going badly, when the pack pulls away and rigor mortis sets in, to run and be defeated is much better than not to run at all.

What does this have to do with my preference of amateurism to shamateurism? Couldn't I have run my races and enjoyed them just as much if I had been paid? I don't think so.

First, let's assess Mike Agostini's winnings. They turn out to be inconsequential: a typewriter here, a camera there, $50 for an indoor track appearance, some spending money picked up in Europe. Someone else, Mike reports, made $3,000 a summer. But it's always someone else. If Mike had made that much, I assume he would have told us.

He got two other things: a college education and a suit of clothes. A college education is not to be sniffed at; it's the dream of thousands, the symbol of success, the opportunity to prepare for life. But is that the sort of college education a subsidized athlete gets? He has traded his talents for an education, and now he can't get the education because he is too caught up in a whirl of practice and competition and travel. By taking the right courses and the right instructors, he can get a degree, but he hasn't received an education.

Back to Mike. An alumnus of Villa-nova gave Mike a suit of clothes, an overcoat and extras worth in all about $200. The label still says "Harris Goodman—Philadelphia." Mike then transferred to Fresno State. Mike wasn't given those clothes so that he could show up in style at Fresno State. That $75 overcoat was intended for Philadelphia winters. Not only was the alumnus breaking NCAA and AAU regulations; he was also offering a bribe. However, he is not the person I'm concerned with here. Mike accepted the bribe and then welshed. And this, I insist, regardless of what the rules are, is, if not immoral or unethical, at least irresponsible.

Let's assume for the moment that in the period from 1953 to 1960 Mike Agostini made $10,000 above and beyond the expenses he could allowably claim as an amateur. The evidence he has presented in his article indicates that he made much less, but let's be generous. Then, let's be absurd and assume that I could have made this much in the same period. If I could be $10,000 richer today, would it have been worth it? Would $10,000 be worth it if I knew that there was a man in Philadelphia who not only had bought my gratitude but also knew that I wasn't grateful? Would it be worth being friendly with every meet promoter who is willing to connive, with every hypocritical AAU official who says one thing and does another? Would it be worth knowing that I have to run, whether I feel like it or not? Would it be worth knowing that I lie when I sign my oath of amateurism before competing in the Olympic Games? If it takes any part of the thrill or joy out of running, then $10,000 isn't enough.

Agostini professes that he started as an amateur and was seduced of his innocence. He blames the system. I insist that Mike could have learned to say no. He could have had his athletic career and his amateur spirit, too. He could have turned down the suit of clothes, the typewriter and the camera. If he had been willing to work occasionally, he could still be possessed of those things with the comfortable knowledge that they aren't gifts from people he despises.

Have I suffered as an amateur? The fact that I had to go through college without an athletic scholarship is really beside the point. When I enrolled at Southern Illinois University I was not good enough, by anyone's standards, to merit help (my best high school mile was 5 minutes fiat). And my parents could afford to send me. However, I improved enough so that track became the big part of my college career. When I was in college I was at least as naive as the young Agostini. When I traveled alone to the Central Collegiate meet in Milwaukee my junior year I had the peculiar notion that it was my duty to spend as little of the school's funds as possible. I walked from the train station to the hotel, and when the bellboy who insisted on carrying my bags to my room turned for his tip I had none for him. I still remember the empty-handed stare of contempt.

I also remember that my school didn't have funds to send me to the AAU championships and Olympic trials in 1952 and that I got there only through my brother's generosity. In those two meets I got to see and run against the best distance runners in the country. In fact, I had a better view of Curtis Stone winning the 5,000 meters at the trials than anyone else in the Los Angeles Coliseum. I was just one lap and 100 yards behind him. I was far from being good enough for the 1952 Olympic team, but I decided at that time that someday I might be.

In 1954 I joined the University of Chicago Track Club and began to run well enough to place in national meets. The track club theory of running differs from Mike Agostini's. We run because we like to, and our first consideration is always how to get enough money to go to a track meet, never how much money we will make there. I remember the first trip I made with the club, to the AAU cross-country meet in Philadelphia in 1954. The club had enough money for train fare-coach, both ways. In Philadelphia we stayed at the YMCA to keep down expenses and bought our own meals. One boy carried a shopping bag loaded with sandwiches, because he figured that he could save $5 that way. I finished fourth in the meet; the team finished second. After the race, we dressed and ate as much of the free lunch as we could and took off for the railroad station and our overnight coach ride back. This was what I expected of a track trip, and I enjoyed it. When 1 began to get invitations to the bigindoor meets I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the expense money provided permitted a more luxurious mode of travel.

Ted Haydon, our track club coach, devised the system which we use to handle the expenses of going to indoor meets. He contacts the meet promoters and tells them what my expenses will be; he makes the reservations and buys the tickets. This saves me the time and trouble, and it prevents the possibility of promoters pressuring me. I go to a meet to run the race I want to run the way I want to run it. A meet promoter doesn't have to invite me to his meet, and if he does, I am in no way obligated.

One point which Agostini doesn't make clear is that the AAU recognizes that competing in a meet should not cost the athlete anything. If I am given air fare to New York and money for a room and meals while I am there, I am not violating even the most strict interpretation of the amateur rules. Also, I might add, the profits of most indoor meets go, at least ostensibly, to charity. I recognize the charity racket for what it is, and I don't pretend that no one is getting rich on any of the indoor meets, but I don't think that Agostini's justification that he is entitled to a cut of the loot is reasonable. The honor and the glory and the urge that says "Run!" are worth more than a paycheck.

I know of several other track men besides Agostini who have received money for their races. One runner whose career overlapped Wes Santee's told me that he was approached after winning a race by the runner he had beaten and told how much money to ask for. After that, he was paid more or less regularly for his races, and he doesn't feel that any harm was done. But note this. He would have run for nothing. When he started receiving pay he had already been running for years, and the sport itself had been reward enough. If I could name the runner without embarrassing him, I could also demonstrate that his running for pay ultimately did him a disservice. Throughout the early season in 1956 he was one of the best at his distance in the nation. But he ran too many races, how many for pay I don't know. By the time the Olympic trials took place in June, he had lost his edge, and didn't make the team.

I started running the mile on the indoor circuit in 1955, the year before Wes Santee was banned. Santee was a splendid sight in his shock-pink-and-blue Kansas uniform, with his long legs that in spite of their length seemed barely to reach the boards and the cocky smile that carefully hid a basically friendly person. In 1955 Santee was the greatest American miler and potentially the greatest miler in the world. He had all the assets—spring, strength, drive, confidence and devotion. He was on the verge of achieving his greatness when his career was cut short—cut short because he thought that the money he would make was more important than the race.

I don't blame the AAU for banning Wes Santee. Neither do I give it much credit. Santee was caught publicly. No one could hide his actions. The people at fault were those who influenced Wes to think that the money was all-important—the athletes who, before his time, had accepted pay and the promoters and officials who offered it.

The fall of Wes Santee coincided with the rise of indoor track's greatest miler, almost to the very race. Ron Delany enrolled as a freshman at Villa-nova in the fall of 1954 and started his fabulous string of indoor victories the next year. I cannot count the number of times that I ran second to Delany, though after the first few I was happy to be second, because there was always a pack of scrappers like myself scrambling to be the first to finish behind him. All those races congeal in my memory into one big race—a sort of formula dream, frequently repeated. Though there were variations in the way it began, it always ended the same. Just after the half-mile mark, I would try to get away. I would take the lead and put everything I had into the next quarter. I never managed to get enough of an edge on Delany, but usually he was the only one who caught me. Even when things were going their worst and I was an also-ran, even when I was running so badly that no one would havedreamed of paying me, the mere opportunity to race—to take on the best and know that it was the best who had beaten me—was payment enough.

In 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960 I ran in almost all of the big indoor meets—all I wanted to go to. I ran hard, and I frequently came home exhausted. I got stranded by weathered-in planes, I missed flights, I stayed in crummy hotels. I got behind in my school work. And through it all, I loved it. Only in the last year, when I was winning more races than I was losing, did I finally get tired of the weekend travel. But I did it gladly without pay.

"Well and good," you might say, especially if you are Mike Agostini or Wes Santee, "but didn't you need pay? And even if you didn't need it, didn't you deserve it?"

My wife has worked off and on since our marriage to supplement my paycheck, but if the truth were known she has really wanted to. Living on our two salaries we have raised our two children and in the last few years saved enough money so that she could accompany me to the Olympic Games in Rome. While we could have spent $10,000 if we had had it, we also could have lived much more simply than we have. No one but the unemployed can argue that he needs to be paid for running.

Do I deserve pay? Aside from the real benefit of running, the simple pleasure of the act, I have also received some material rewards: a trip to Australia for the 1956 Olympic Games; through Russia, Poland, Hungary and Greece in 1958; to Rome last summer, with a tour of Athens, London, Dublin, Glasgow and three cities in Sweden tacked on; and countless trips to New York, Los Angeles and points in between in the U.S. In addition, I have received the clothing allotments that members of the U.S. Olympic teams receive and countless prizes—two transistor radios, a suitcase, trophies, medals and too many watches. In short, I have been rewarded. Beyond this, do I deserve pay? Not shamateur pay. I deserve something better than that.

There is no special virtue in amateurism if the definition hinges only on whether or not the athlete is paid. The value of amateurism lies deeper. It is the value the Greeks recognized as lost when they discontinued the ancient Olympic Games. Amateurism is a point of view, a state of mind. It is an attitude toward sport that recognizes it as something other than a profession, something other than life's work, something other than a livelihood or a means of existence. Athletics has been for me a way of life, but it has not been a whole life, and it cannot be. One of the brutal facts is that man grows old; even the hardiest competitor who holds on as long as he can has a falling off of talents. If he has nothing else to do and is lucky, he becomes a hollow ghost of his hardy youth, a Clarence DeMar, going through an autumnal spring rite at the Boston Marathon—not an old man against young men but an old man against himself and the road. If he is less lucky, he simply bores hisguests with a history of the Yale football team of '06 or the time he ran against Charlie Paddock. Or he goes to the gym and jogs a lap before he takes his steam bath. Or, unluckiest of all, he ends up punch-drunk and blurry-eyed.

An amateur's commitment to sport is a qualified commitment, an acknowledgment that he will give his all only within certain restrictions. He will do his utmost in his two hours a day, knowing that he might be better if he spent eight hours or if he added weight lifting or if he dropped spices from his diet or quit sleeping with his wife. He strives to do the utmost within his limits but has the reservation that if he is not himself victorious this does not mean that he is defeated. This is his creed, whether he is an amateur runner, boxer, painter or fisherman.

At the same time, there is a social reason for amateurism. The age of mechanization, mass production and collective bargaining has brought for most Americans an increase in leisure time. The 48-hour week has become a 40-hour week, and in some areas it has been reduced to 35. A large segment of the population has found itself in the dilemma of having time on its hands and not knowing what to do with it. For some, all leisure is TV time. But for others, leisure time means time to devote to a hobby, a craft—or a sport. This leisure-time approach is necessarily an amateur approach: I'll-do-what-I-can-in-the-time-that-I-have attitude. The joy of this leisure lies in the fact that there is no pressure, no compulsion to hurry through in order to get paid.

If Mike Agostini wants to get paid for his sport, I will let him. If the time comes when track is run on a semiprofessional basis, I'll be relieved that my friends who want to earn money can do it openly without fear of expulsion. I do ask of the Mike Agostinis that they stop implying that because they do something, everybody does and insisting that because they do it, it's right.

PHOTOColeman equaled best indoor mile ever run by an American when he did 4:03.8 (right).