Avery’s cautionary tale/The Red Line
There once was a man named Avery. Born in Detroit, he became an Olympic track star and a very rich man, though not the latter because of the former.
After he put away his spikes, Avery became a sports administrator and eventually president of the International Olympic Committee, the only American to do so in the 100-plus-year history of the Olympic movement.
There was a belief back then that truly noble sport was done purely for the love of it, which was great for anyone who didn’t have bills to pay or whose bills were already getting paid. It was called ‘amateurism.’
Avery became a relentless crusader for the concept of amateurism. He got Paavo Nurmi kicked out of the 1932 Los Angeles Games for accepting payments. He had Jim Thorpe stripped of his Olympic gold medals after it was retroactively discovered he was playing minor league baseball under an assumed name. There was a time one couldn’t teach physical education in school and retain one’s Olympic eligibility.
Avery was quite an idealist, but also very good at looking the other way when Communist nations paid their best athletes by making them part of the military, kow-towing to the powers that be (particularly, in 1936, Adolf Hitler) and doing what was convenient as opposed to what was right, such as supporting white racist governments like apartheid South Africa.
I bring up the history lesson because another organization has gone down the same road: the NCAA.
Until recently, the NCAA rulebook declared that it was permissible to provide free bagels to student-athletes but that anything to put on them was considered an impermissible benefit.
Earlier this year, a West Coast Conference school self-reported a violation of the NCAA rulebook when a women’s golfer washed her car on campus, because the water and hose were not available to regular students and mandated she pay $20 in restitution.
This week, Sports Illustrated reported that Oklahoma State fixed grades, funneled cash and provided ‘services’ for football players throughout the 2000s, most of which happened long enough ago for the NCAA’s statute of limitations to have expired.
In literally every corner of the country, the ideals that the NCAA has fixed on its athletes have been undercut by filthy lucre, but not to the players, to the top. Many of them haven’t even been getting caught any more.
The NCAA still hasn’t issued penalties related to Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro’s ‘support’ of the Miami athletic department because it’s spent the better part of three years bungling the process.
But thank God they fixed the bagel rule.
The question of direct compensation for collegiate athletes is a thorny one: If some get paid, must all get paid (particularly women)? How much is too much? In Division II as well?
But to prohibit one from receiving anything remotely construed as compensation from one’s name when the ‘college sports industrial complex’ rakes in cash from every corner: television, merchandise, official ‘corporate champions,’ shoe companies, six one-time football uniform stunts a year, reflects the same inflexible pie-in-the-sky ethos of the IOC in the mid-20th century.
Professionals compete in the Olympics in almost every sport in the 21st century, and not exactly everyone is raking in the dough. Ask that fencer or field hockey player how profitable things have become for them, that is, if you can find them during their shift at Home Depot. Yet, the movement was as strong in the early 21st century as it has ever been.
Avery Brundage never figured out how to square his ideals with reality. The NCAA had better do so quickly, lest they follow his path to irrelevance.
Brandon?Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.