Cases of questionable amateurism in the NCAA are a common occurrence in today’s sports world, where the distinction between professionalism and amateurism is not always clear. As I read Dunning’s argument about the creation of amateurism as a backlash to the professional sports participant, it got me to think about what amateurism really means within the context of today’s sports landscape, where it seems just about everything is commercialized and used to create a profit.
One of the most pressing cases with regards to amateurism in the NCAA right now is Todd Gurley and his alleged selling of autographs. Gurley, a junior at the University of Georgia, is widely considered one of the best running-backs in college football right now and was a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the most exceptional player in college football every year. Gurley has been suspended indefinitely as a result of an action that the NCAA would deem as not following the code of amateurism that they propose.
According to Dunning, amateurism arose as a backlash of sorts to the growing professionalism, seriousness, and competitiveness in sports. This movement was facilitated by the upper-class, as they were the only ones with the luxury of spending time pursuing sports in a more relaxed and less serious manner. Dunning points to this amateur ethos as the best way to go about participating in sports, as it preserves the true essence of what play is supposed to be. However, I disagree with its applicability to the modern-day concept of amateurism.
Nowadays in sports, everyone is looking to make a profit. The NCAA and its member institutions are no exception. The organization, schools, coaches, and sponsors make millions of dollars each year on college football. It seems that everyone is reaping the benefits off of amateur sports except the players themselves. The argument is constantly made that these players are receiving an education and should be students first and athletes second. The reality is that some of these players, including Gurley, are using college football as a stepping stone to professional sports, where they can finally make money off of their skills as athletes and make a better life for themselves and those around them.
Dunning espouses an amateurism that just doesn’t exist in the world of mainstream sports today. Amateurism as Dunning sees it is confined to the upper class and really has no place in an organization like college football, where the games are watched by millions of people every Saturday. This is why I have no doubt that Dunning would label the NCAA’s and colleges’ code of amateurism as hypocritical and faulty in its logic. How can the NCAA and schools expect players, especially like Gurley, who they are making millions of dollars off to commit themselves to an code of amateurism when they themselves and the corporations they make deals with are looking at these players solely as a way to make money? It is unreasonable to expect this of Gurley, an athlete who probably not placing college football behind his education in terms of importance.
This highlights a problem with our sports world today. Many college athletes look at college sports as a prerequisite for their entry into the arena of professional sports while the NCAA and member schools, who generate immense revenue, still assert that their mission is to protect and foster an atmosphere of so-called “amateurism” where education is still the top priority to these student-athletes. Athletes with skills like Gurley are looking to their collegiate athletic careers as a way to elevate themselves to the professional level.This disconnect between what the concept of amateurism means to the players and what it means to these institutions is a problem. Dunning’s argument about the seriousness and competitiveness of sports as trending upward is not only applicable to professional sports, but to amateur sports as well.
This so-called “amateurism” in college football and college sports in general is far from what Dunning would define as amateurism and is in need of reconsideration. It is unreasonable to push amateurism on these athletes that will ultimately take their skills and use them as a way to make a career for themselves. Why not have a system where amateurism is not a prerequisite for these athletes to make money off of their skills? If this were the case, only the athletes whose ideas about sports are in line with the NCAA’s would participate in college athletics, and cases like Gurley’s would be much less common than they are now. Whether or not you believe in the concept of amateurism in collegiate sports today, there is no doubt that there is a need to reconsider the concept within the context of the world of mainstream spectator sports.