Howard: Amateur status? Who really cares

Column: My Point

At one time, being an amateur in sports was the difference between getting to play in most sporting events in your chosen field or being left out - playing for personal satisfaction, not monetary gain.

Tennis, the Olympics, all college sports - of these amateur sport situations you were left with at most obtaining remuneration for only your expenses. This had the effect of limiting the growth of sports with the masses due to time restraints, leaving many of the better players to come from well to do families and/or wealthy backgrounds who could spend more time practicing, playing, thus becoming better than others.

The world of tennis took care of that problem in 1968 with the creation of “open tennis” changing the field to where all players amateur or professional could finally compete together. It should and could have happened decades earlier, but the people in charge didn’t want to lose their control and power.

Many of the great amateur players up until Open Tennis took place were part of an under-the-table paid group, known as shamateurism. They didn’t like the fact that was the only way they could continue the life they loved and survive.

In 1992 the Olympics made the change to allow all players amateur and professional to compete together. Many Eastern Bloc nations were already supporting their athletes full time, so this just made things legal across the board, while letting well known professional athlete’s back in.

You might remember when the “Dream Team” of NBA players from the U.S. took the Barcelona Olympics by storm in 92.

Did Joe Public really care if the ideal of “amateur players” went out the window? No, but now there were millions of extra viewers watching the best of the best compete, and injection of money making sporting avenues very big business.

Should prominent college’s with great football and basketball teams raking in millions and paying their top coaches $2 to $5 million dollars a year feel obligated to reimburse some of their great athlete’s more than the scholarships they’re given? Are their players being exploited or promoted?

Some great high school athletes who were not great scholars have been tutored and given special classes for sports clearance that might have been more for the sports program than for the player, maybe that’s a fair trade-off, but maybe it’s taking advantage of a situation. Shouldn’t the great players be able to capitalize on their own name with selling jerseys and other name recognition items at the least? Currently there is quite a bit of debate and discussion taking place on what will change in the future of college sports.

It’s too late for past players to benefit from amateurs and professionals being allowed to play together, there’s a sadness in having had Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals taken away, Bill Tilden being penalized for making a few bucks writing about the sport of tennis and so many more examples - but, “We’ve come a long way - baby!”

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 45 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or