What a contentious concept: amateur vs. professional athletics.
In fact, this distinction is the essence of this blog. The purpose of the Bush League North is to convey stories and information about the amateur sports world. And a healthy dose of this mission statement relies on the definition of amateur, because how am I to discuss anything in the amateur sports world without understanding this discrepancy.
Definition of amateur from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (MWD):
: a person who does something (such as a sport or hobby) for pleasure and not as a job
: a person who does something poorly : a person who is not skillful at a job or other activity
Couple interesting points:
I can’t believe I’m using a dictionary to define anything. Not that it’s a bad place to do so, in fact it’s likely the most appropriate place to look up any definition, but in my youth my step-dad was (and still is) a stickler for grammar / spelling / words so I’d be sent to the wall of dictionaries anytime I asked “what does that mean?”. I would, naturally, hate this process, which was likely the reason that I used Wikipedia to site sources for my papers in college (which is a big no-no for those of you thinking what a genius idea I have contrived). Either way, use the dictionary kids. There’s nothing like a bookshelf full of leather-bound books that screams knowledge and pretentiousness. (Note: I did use the online MWD for my definition).
The word “sport” is used in the definition, which is a good sign pour moi. Because me and the MWD (or the MWD and I, but screw it) are on the same page (no pun intended) about where we’re going with this.
I prefer the first definition to the second. The second one makes us amateurs seem like unworthy peasants to the kings and queens of the professional ranks. So what if I’m an amateur blogger? Does that mean I do it poorly? Probably. But I have had just about enough of MWD’s pretentious definitions!
Which leads me to my last, and most to-the-point point: Definition 1 defines an “amateur” as someone who engages in sport for pleasure rather than for financial benefit. But what about receiving funding so as to pursue your sport at the highest levels? But what about engaging in sport for both pleasure and money? But what about accepting compensation in exchange for your endorsement or image? But what about, but what about, but what about… And therein lies the true scrutiny of the amateur athlete.
So, if we’re to take the MWD definition at face value, then the only true amateur athletes are kids playing in the sandlot and us old geezers playing in adult rec leagues. But what about all of them youth athletes (Under-18) who are playing for the love of the game? But what about the IOC’s definition of amateurism – found in Article 26 of the Olympic Charter of 1964. But what about student-athletes who represent their high schools, colleges, or universities in intercollegiate play? We’re playing the “But What About” game again, which means there are many questions with fewer answers.
Here’s the thing: the definition of amateur, in the context of athletics, is very different in definition and in actuality. For instance, kids playing club volleyball in Manitoba might play for a club that receives funding from a corporate sponsor, which allows them to pay less out of pocket for team fees, which is technically substitution for employment and income, which can be misconstrued as being paid to play, and this sentence is becoming more and more like one of the legal contract small-print run-on sentences, but I’m trying to illustrate a point. We all, however, consider these kids amateurs, even though the technicality of the definition says otherwise. Either way, I’m fine with it.
To answer another one of our “But What Abouts”, more than half of the Olympians that participate in our awe-inspiring, multi-billion dollar, sports extravaganzas are either actually professionals (i.e. hockey, basketball, soccer, tennis, etc.), funded through a plethora of government grants, or surviving on endorsement deals. Again, I’m fine with most of this, minus the “actual professionals”, because it’s in the Olympic spirit to strive for the podium and represent your country. But more and more Olympic athletes are not amateurs at all, dedicating most of their time and money to their personal sport development. AND, nowadays, we are in shock if an Olympics-aspired youth is able to get to that godly level without any financial
Lastly, the big situation right now in the NCAA (coincidentally appropriate because of the dawn of March Madness 2015), which is grossing millions upon millions of dollars on the backs of their student-athletes and still referring to them as student-athletes. Whether they are receiving fair compensation through a free education or being exploited for their unique athletic talents, I am willing to question the amateurism of these athletes. (For a more researched and formal rant, please check out John Oliver’s bit on this topic). I will stop here, as I might have a hernia.
To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with any of this (except maybe the exploitation of NCAA athletes), I’m just saying. And the reason I’m just saying, is because there is an important difference between what is defined as amateur sport, and what we describe as amateur sport. To me, and for the purpose of this blog, I will define amateur sport as all levels of organized sport up to the major professional sporting associations and their affiliated organizations. This includes: the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Lacrosse League (NLL), all major European soccer leagues, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), and probably some others that I haven’t thought of yet. So what will I blog on then? Well, there is a wide world of sport out there, and plenty even to discuss in our proud Canadian amateur sports system.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin on this one. After my university years, I was fortunate enough to work at one of the biggest professional sports conglomerates in the world. It was a ticket sales job – not the scalping or will call type, but cold calling companies to buy ticket packages. Yeesh! It was a stunning realization of what that world is all about: selling a product. I know it sounds obvious, but when you’re in the midst of slinging tickets day in and day out, you start to realize that it’s not about sport anymore, and all about product. Young people that graduate from these newly-popular sports management programs don’t always realize it, but a professional sports organization is just like any other business. It has a finance department, HR, PR, IT, every other department with a two-letter acronym, inter-office transfers, internal messaging software, AGMs, legal, and all them Chiefs (executives, that is). The only difference, as with most businesses, is its product: SPORTS! And professional sports at that. The best of the best. Which is awesome, and therefore this is what you would call a passion industry (Definition: an industry where employers can pay their employees less because it’s awesome, people love it so they’ll do it for less, and there are hundreds of applicants lined up outside the door). Anyways, what I was getting at, is professional sports aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be. Yes, the product CAN be great, but often teams suck. And, yes, a pro sports team’s “product development” department is likely team operations/management, which is also cool. But, for your information, there are probably about ten jobs (max) in this department on any given team, and they usually go to former players and personnel. So for the rest of us aspiring to work in this wondrous and magical industry, we get to work regular desk jobs with limited access to the professional athletes, and lesser wages. All in all, pro sports is about selling pro sports more than it is about sports. This is confusing, but think about why you love sport in the first place (competition, amazing highlights, raw talent, etc.); then pick your favourite pro sports team; now think about how many times that team’s management (or product development team) has made decisions that are ludicrous and make you want to pull your hair out. Probably a lot. Why? Because, just like everyone else in the “professional” world, they are out to make money. Hey, and I’m not knocking the efforts of a vast majority of the team personnel that want to win as much as you want them to, however at the top of every company is a Chief, and that Chief has to answer to a Board, and that Board’s mandate is to make dollars.
Therefore, I opted to move into the amateur sports world. After my slinging days, I really started disliking the teams that I had rooted for all my life, because I understood the inner workings of the franchises. That being said, I still appreciate moments like Ray Bourque hoisting Stanley’s Cup in his 22nd and final season, or ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of unreal documentaries, or reading about Andre Agassi’s constant pain in OPEN. But I choose to focus on our youth. And I don’t mean this in a prideful or political sense, but rather frocusing on the herds of anonymous youth amateur athletes in this country that are experiencing life-changing opportunities in the field of sport, everyday.
So I will blog about Team PEI swimming, or beach volleyball in the Yukon, or the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) lacrosse championships. This is what I am passionate about, this is what I grew up in, and this is what I want to make my mark on. By connecting people in the amateur sports world, or consulting for amateur sport organizations at Wheelhouse Sports, or writing this blog, I hope to shine a brighter light on the world of amateur athletics in Canada. To digress back to the beginning , the definition of Bush League is a minor league of a professional sport. Amateur sports? Ya, why not, it makes sense, right? In essence, like I said before, the concept encapsulates all the youth athletes participating in sports across the country, who may aspire to play professionally, but are also growing extensively as people along the way.