The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field


This unique sports and labor history charts the revolutionary transformation of track and field over the past thirty years. In this time, the sport has changed from an amateur effort whose governing bodies unfairly controlled its athletes' lives to a professional arena in which athletes have the power to make decisions in their own best interests. While historians have chronicled labor history in team sports such as baseball and football or have lumped track and field into larger studies of Olympic history, ...

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This unique sports and labor history charts the revolutionary transformation of track and field over the past thirty years. In this time, the sport has changed from an amateur effort whose governing bodies unfairly controlled its athletes' lives to a professional arena in which athletes have the power to make decisions in their own best interests. While historians have chronicled labor history in team sports such as baseball and football or have lumped track and field into larger studies of Olympic history, Joseph M. Turrini is the first to scrupulously detail the efforts of athletes to reorder labor relations in track and field and to end their decades-long power struggle with governing bodies.

Combining social and institutional history and incorporating the recollections of the athletes and meet directors on the front lines, The End of Amateurism in Track and Field shows how the athletes thoroughly transformed their sport to end the amateur system in the early 1990s-changes that allowed the athletes to market their potential, drastically increase their earning possibilities, and improve their quality of life.

This book reveals how athletes in the 1950s began to harness the courts, legislature, and little-known underground labor relations systems that grew within the sport-to untangle the distribution of power and decision-making by the 1990s. Enlivening the narrative with stories such as runner Wes Santee's battle with the Amateur Athletic Union and revelations about the actions of college coaches and rivalries between the NCAA and AAU, Turrini examines the effects of amateurism on athletes and explores how changes in the economic context of track and field and the role of the government helped leverage the end of the 100-year era of amateur track and field.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Exhaustively researched.  Recommended."—Choice

"In an era in which athletes in all sports can earn fame and riches beyond most of our wildest imaginations Turrini usefully skewers the romanticized image of the amateur ideal."—Journal of Sport History

"Joseph M. Turrini's superb The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field helps to fill in one prominent gap in the existing literature on the subject. . . . A gem of a book."—Sport in History

"The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field is as much a page turner for track fans as it is a compelling read as a business book."—Running Times

"Broadly conceived and thorough in its analysis, The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field examines the power relations in track and field and shows how track athletes successfully negotiated labor issues. Joseph M. Turrini offers heretofore uncovered stories and events in track and field that help explain the inner workings of sport as social and political institutions.”—David K. Wiggins, author of Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252077074
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 5/3/2010
  • Series: Sport and Society Series
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph M. Turrini is an assistant professor of library and information science at Wayne State University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introductioni 1

1 The Amateurs Take Control, 1820s-1940s 9

2 Wes Santee and Amateur Track and Field in the Post-World War II Period, 1945-1961 31

3 The Revolt of the College Coaches, 1960-1968 63

4 The Expansion of the Underground Labor-Relations System and the Growth of Athlete Opposition, 1968-1980 85

5 The International Track Association and the Expansion of Over-the-Table Financial Opportunities, 1968-1980 114

6 The Federal Government and the Amateur Sports Act: From Mediation to Legislation, 1969-1978 136

7 The Athletics Congress and the End of Amateurism, 1979-1993 149

Conclusion 169

Notes 181

Bibliography 243

Index 261

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First Chapter

The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field



Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03515-9

Chapter One

The Amateurs Take Control, 1820s–1940s

Competitive running, throwing, and jumping events and organized track and field are among the older sporting events in the United States. The history of the sport can be divided into three periods. The initial phase, the first professional era, spanned roughly the 1820s to the 1890s. It is characterized by its informality, its lack of organization, and the diversity of competition and exhibitions. The lack of organization resulted from the absence of any organized governing body. Athletes had almost complete freedom to compete where and when they liked and against whom they liked. It is referred to as the professional era, not because most competitors made a living, although some certainly did, but rather because the strict amateur rules that later dominated the sport did not exist. The second phase, the amateur era, extended from roughly the 1890s to the 1990s. The creation of national and international institutions that organized, rationalized, and regulated track and field and the dominance of formal amateurism characterized the period. The governing bodies protected their primary organizing principle, amateurism, with an obsessive fervor. These institutions developed into powerful organizations whose decisions had important consequences for track athletes. This chapter explores the development of track and field and running competitions, with a particular focus on the athletes and their relationship to the governing bodies, during the professional era and the first half of the second era.

In the era of professional running athletes enjoyed a large measure of individual control and athletic freedom. Amateur rules did not limit their financial opportunities, and governing bodies did not impinge on their athletic careers. Athletes competed against each other in unregulated and fluid athletic environments. They roamed the country contending in a wide variety of running, throwing, and jumping competitions and in exhibitions, earning money in challenge matches; in commercial pedestrian contests; at local fairs, parades, and picnics; and at the Scottish-organized Caledonian Games. The more successful competitors were among the first professional athletes and sport stars in the country.

Between the 1820s and the Civil War professional running contests emerged as one of the most important and popular spectator sports in the United States. Americans referred to professional running and walking competitions as "pedestrianism." The earliest known pedestrian races in the United States took place in the 1820s. But the contests of the 1820s and early 1830s remained private affairs often held as side attractions to horse races. A pedestrian craze swept the country in the mid-1830s. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 only horse racing attracted more spectator interest. The popularity of the competitions and exhibitions slowly declined after the Civil War and disappeared by the turn of the century.

Pedestrianism remained unregulated and uncontrolled. Both competitors and organizers acknowledged the need for a central organization to regulate, standardize, and supervise the competitions, but one never emerged. The events continued for decades as a jumble of locally organized and promoted events that encompassed a wide array of distances, rules, and monetary rewards. For example, athletes throughout the country claimed to be champions or record holders at particular distances. Because pedestrianism lacked a coherent organization, the self-proclaimed titles and record times held no legitimacy and often conflicted.

Pedestrian contests were overtly commercial and professional. The organizers of pedestrian events included the earliest sports entrepreneurs in the country, and the more successful pedestrians were, along with jockeys, the first professional athletes. Prizes for winning pedestrian races and match-race bets often ranged from one hundred to five hundred dollars. Profits motivated the promoters to organize the events, and athletes competed because of the prize money. Most important, amateurism or control of the athletes did not exist when professional commercial running events started or during their most popular years prior to the Civil War.

Working-class competitors and spectators predominated throughout the seventy-year history of pedestrianism. The spectator fee remained relatively low, making the contests accessible to the everyday Americans who populated the arenas. One newspaper criticized spectators at an important 1844 Beacon Hill race as "specimens of the rag-tag and bob-tail denizens of New York." Another referred to a pedestrian crowd as a "dense multitude of Oliver Twists." Pedestrian races usually featured male contestants, but women attended the events and occasionally participated in long-distance exhibitions and races. Pedestrian competitions were just one of a number of professional competitive running events enjoyed by Americans in the nineteenth century.

Local parades, fairs, and picnics hosted athletic contests that contributed to the popularity of pedestrianism. The local events complemented the professional pedestrian contests. Trade unions, political parties, ethnic and occupational groups, employers, and townspeople organized the events to attract new members, solidify friendships, and encourage participation in community celebrations. Like the pedestrian competitions, these events occurred under a wide variety of local circumstances. The professional races at the local celebrations served as complementary activities that helped the success of the celebrations. This contrasts with the individual entrepreneurs who organized the pedestrian contests as commercial moneymaking ventures. These events sometimes awarded cash prizes, and other times did not. The local events awarded less money than most commercial pedestrian contests. Although some recruitment of outside athletes occurred, local working-class participation predominated in the parade, fair, and picnic events. Athletes, for example, acquired fame competing informally with local institutions, like hook-and-ladder units of local fire companies. Only the better athletes traveled the country, competing in pedestrian contests as well as in fair and parade events.

The Caledonian Games represented a third avenue of professional running in nineteenth-century America. Scottish immigrants organized the Caledonian Games in the United States based on the tradition of Scotland's Highland Games. Scottish immigrants and Scottish Americans formed Caledonian Clubs to maintain their traditional Scottish heritage through athletic-based celebrations. The Caledonian Games were the most successful ethnic-based athletic competitions in the country. They were, according to one historian, "the single most important promoters of track and field in the country" from the 1850s to the mid-1870s. The formation of Caledonian Clubs and competitions began in the 1830s. The popularity of the competitions grew in the post-Civil War period and peaked in popularity between 1865 and 1880. Athletes competed in as many as twenty-nine different events at Caledonian Games, including running, throwing, and jumping events. The Games included many events that formal amateur track and field included with little or no change, such as the shot put, pole vault, and triple jump (hop, skip, and jump) and running races that ranged from one hundred yards to three miles. The Caledonian Games also included traditional Scottish novelty events, like the potato race, the sack race, football kicking, and wrestling. The inclusion of jumping and throwing events in the Caledonian Games represented an important expansion of earlier athletic contests in the United States. The commercial pedestrian events and the competitions at fairs, parades, and picnics focused primarily on running and walking events. As in pedestrian contests, male contestants dominated the Caledonian Games, but women also occasionally competed.

The Caledonian Games awarded money and valuable prizes, providing an avenue for athletes to complement their pedestrian and local event earnings. Although the amount of money offered at the Caledonian Games never approached what the best athletes earned in the larger pedestrian races, a good athlete earned substantial money and prizes. For example, the best general athlete at the Philadelphia Caledonian Games in 1873 received a gold medallion worth $150. Another athlete accumulated $700 in one day for his athletic feats at a Caledonian Games meet.

By the 1880s the popularity of the Caledonian Games declined. The assimilation of Scottish immigrants and a decrease in immigration from Scotland in the 1870s and 1880s contributed to the reduced interest. The success of the Caledonian Games also inspired the growth of other track and field events and athletic clubs that provided alternative competitive opportunities for athletes and spectators. But perhaps most important, the professional element of the Caledonian Games condemned the events when amateur athletic clubs formed and adopted an amateur ideology.

The informal and uncoordinated environment of professional running and track and field during the professional era provided the athletes with unimpeded independence. Athletes competed where and when they wanted based primarily on the location of the events and the financial compensation offered. Unfettered by governing bodies or rule-making institutions, the popularity and skill of the athletes determined their opportunities. Scores of athletes regularly supplemented their primary income through local professional competitions, and some became professional athletes. These athletes operated as individual entrepreneurs, selling and marketing their popularity as showmen and athletes to professional promoters and the public in a variety of events and locations, including contests at horse-race tracks; cross-country exhibitions; locally organized fairs, picnics, and parades; challenge matches; Caledonian Club track meets; and national commercial events held at large arenas. The athletes' movements and competitive opportunities remained unrestrained, limited only by the existing opportunities and their skill and popularity. But the athletic independence and open professionalism that athletes enjoyed during the professional era gave way to a much different system of athletics.

Beginning in the late 1860s a new philosophy of athletic competition emerged. It materialized not from the mostly working-class participants, organizers, and spectators of the popular running, throwing, and jumping contests of the professional era but rather from wealthier segments of society. Amateurism reigned as the primary tenet of the new sporting philosophy. The creators of amateurism in the United States concluded that true athletes competed not for monetary gain but for the love of sport. This new amateur sporting ethic regarded any form of financial reward for athletic success as unseemly, contrary to good sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior. Compensation gained from athletic success created contaminated competitions and caused illegitimate outcomes.

The new amateur sporting philosophy clashed with the athletic independence and financial opportunities that the pedestrians enjoyed. The creators and principal supporters of amateurism formed sport clubs, starting in 1868, which, by 1896, when athletes competed in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, controlled track and field in the United States. The success of the amateur clubs eclipsed the professional pedestrian contests, the informal professional local athletic contests, and the Caledonian Games. The new amateur clubs replaced the open professional running competitions with organized, standardized, elite-controlled, and formally amateur track and field.

The New York Athletic Club led the way in transforming nineteenth-century professional running into amateur track and field. Three prominent New York City sports enthusiasts, William B. Curtis, John C. Babcock, and Henry E. Buermeyer, formed the NYAC in 1866. The three gentlemen-athletes modeled the NYAC on the London Athletic Club and borrowed its amateur code, which formed the basis of the NYAC's philosophy of organized sport. Social exclusivity motivated the LAC's amateur code. The club sought to exclude working people so that "gentlemen amateurs" could compete among themselves. The LAC constitution explicitly barred not only those who received compensation for competing in athletics but all working people as professionals ineligible for their competitions. Its constitution included a mechanics clause that made all mechanics, artisans, and laborers ineligible for amateur status. Although the NYAC did not include the explicitly class-based elements contained in the LAC's mechanics clause, it based its notion of athletics on a similar vision of social exclusion. Historian Steven Pope convincingly argues that nineteenth-century amateurism was an "invented tradition" created to "draw class lines against the masses and to develop a new bourgeois leisure lifestyle as a badge of middle- and upper-class identity."

During the next century the core concept that motivated the amateur clubs remained that athletes should not gain any financial benefit from their athletic skills or accomplishments. In 1869 the Spirit of the Times, a newspaper edited by NYAC founder William Curtis, published a generally accepted definition of amateurism: "any person who has never competed in an open competition, or for admission money, or with professionals, for a prize, public money, or admission money, and who has never, at any period of his life, taught or assisted in the pursuit of athletic exercises as a means of livelihood." An amateur athlete could never accept prize money. Once an athlete became a professional, there was no returning to amateur athletics. The amateur definition prohibited any sort of profession related to their athletic careers, such as coaching. The amateur rules barred amateur athletes from competing against professional athletes, even if the competition did not include prize money. This was later commonly known as the contamination clause. The presence of one professional athlete at any meet contaminated, or professionalized, all the other athletes at the meet. Based on this definition, every person who had ever competed in a pedestrian race, at a local celebration race that awarded a cash prize, or in the Caledonian Games was a professional athlete.

The new amateur code had an important and influential backer in NYAC founder William Curtis. When Curtis took over as editor of the Spirit of the Times he ended its decades-long coverage of professional races. Curtis remained "adamant in his belief that the true amateur athlete competed for the love of the game and not for monetary reward." Curtis and the other founders of the NYAC abhorred not only the professionalism of the contemporary athletic contests but also their working-class characteristics. Curtis criticized the unruly working-class crowds and the lack of standardization and regulations at the professional contests. He even complained about the "noisy bagpipers and crowds of wild dancers" at the Caledonian Games.

Although the NYAC strongly criticized professional athletics, during the early years its amateur code was loosely enforced. The NYAC invited the New York Caledonian Club athletes to participate in its first open track meet held in 1868, even though they had competed and earned prize money. Throughout the 1870s NYAC members participated in Caledonian Club track meets, which still offered prize money. The NYAC continued to invite professional pedestrians to its track meets in the 1870s, and even sponsored its own "Grand Professional Meet," which included cash prizes, as late as 1877. Both amateur and professional track events coexisted throughout the NYAC's first decade. Pedestrian contests, informal professional running contests, the Caledonian Games, and the NYAC amateur track meets all took place in the 1870s, and the competitors in these events overlapped during this transitional decade.

In 1888 the NYAC and eight other track clubs formed the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States to regulate and organize competitive amateur sport in the United States. The AAU claimed jurisdiction over all amateur athletics in the United States, including baseball, football, gymnastics, cycling, and a host of others. The AAU abandoned jurisdiction over many of these sports, like football and baseball, in which it never had any influence. The AAU insisted upon unilateral control of track and field and the athletes and strict enforcement of its amateur regulations. The AAU ended the loose structure of running competitions in the United States. It created institutional mechanisms to control competitive events and athletes, such as a Registration Committee that verified the amateur status of athletes and dispensed newly required AAU registration cards. If an athlete did not have a valid AAU card, he could not compete in AAU-sanctioned meets. Conversely, the AAU required meet directors to obtain an AAU sanction to hold meets. The AAU banned athletes who competed in meets that did not have an AAU sanction. The AAU revoked the registration card of any athlete who broke AAU rules, often the amateur regulations. The registration and meet-sanctioning processes provided the AAU with the ability to enforce amateurism and to control the athletes.


Excerpted from The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field by JOSEPH M. TURRINI Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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