Strangely enough the sport that has provided the stiffest controversy over the amateur-professional status in modern times is and always has been one of the freest from professionalism. There is no recognized professional tennis, in the sense that there is recognized professional golf and cricket, sports which, while chiefly amateur, nevertheless frankly turn a professional side to the public.
Of two million tennis-players the world over, probably not more than three hundred are professionals. These are chiefly teachers who rarely attract public notice of any sort and seldom play match tennis except with amateurs preparing for important contests. There are few tournaments restricted to professionals or open to them. Moreover, these tennis-teachers would be under severe handicaps in continued match play, for the reason that they have little opportunity to become 'match-hardened'—accustomed to playing before large audiences and meeting the nerve-racking concomitants of acute competition. No player, even though he be a genius, can become a champion until he has met a series of these acid tests. Excellent players sometimes 'crack' under the strain. If they are really great they persevere to the point of becoming 'gallery-proof.' On the other hand, some players from the start find that the crowd gives them just the fillip they need in order to do their best.
Both in spirit and in fact lawn tennis is overwhelmingly amateur. In the whole history of the sport, professionalism has made no headway. The apprehensions culminating in this controversy are rooted in fear rather than in experience. Neither past nor present encourages the idea that tennis morale is breaking down. Moreover, the 'player-writer' criticism is leveled at a small group, not more than twenty, and including only four players of prominence. That a sport so notably amateur as tennis can be undermined by the literary activities of so few is absurd.
Nevertheless it is this, the most amateur of all sports, with the possible exception of polo, which has legislated against its greatest match player by impugning his amateurism on grounds so novel, and under definitions so fine-spun, that the tennis world stands divided against itself on the merits of the controversy. The Tilden case has become, indeed, not only a cause célèbre in tennis, but involves principles of the utmost importance in the future of amateur athletics in general.
Amateurism is one thing in play and quite another thing in work, one thing in sport, and something else in a profession or business. An amateur detective follows sleuthing as an avocation, not as a vocation, yet he does not lose caste if he accepts emoluments on occasion. The amateur printer, or photographer, or bookbinder frequently sells his work, yet continues to think of himself as amateur. There is more distinction between amateur and professional painters, actors, singers, and entertainers, yet it disappears quickly and without qualms of conscience or loss of prestige if the market calls loudly enough. In the traditionally learned professions amateurism is actually taboo. In most states and countries amateur lawyers and physicians have no right to practise, and amateur ministers usually receive scant consideration from the public.
The case is quite otherwise in games and sports. These are amateur, not by definition, but by right of being. Just as pedestrians are accorded priority on thoroughfares because pedestrianism is the natural state of man, so amateur sport stands on a higher plane than professional sport. The player antedated the ticket-taker, the amateur antedated the professional. Upon professionalism must ever rest the necessity for proving itself decent, whereas the amateur status is respectable per se until challenged. Indeed, in the eye of sportsmen, there is something almost sacred in that status, so that a flank attack upon it, by definition and interpretation where facts are lacking, seems not only needlessly cruel, but even to some extent unsportsmanlike.
But since, in time, professionalism was, it had to be dealt with. Then arose amateur rules or laws, selfimposed by groups of enthusiasts, to protect play from commercialism. In the beginning, no doubt, they were simple enough but, as new inhibitions and prohibitions were grafted upon them, they have become a mystery to the public, a torment to governing bodies, and a plague to the players. The amateur rule is the most troublesome of all. And yet, after playing games and studying rules for more than a third of a century, the matter seems to me simple, the definition of an amateur easy, and the enforcement of it not at all difficult. As a member of the Committee of
Seven selected to deal with the protection of amateurism in lawn tennis, I shall soon discover whether theory can be translated into action.
In my opinion, an amateur in lawn tennis is one who does not receive money or its equivalent for playing or teaching the game. Conversely, a professional is one who receives money or its equivalent for teaching or playing the game. The line of demarcation is as sharp as fresh whitewash on a grass court.
This bald statement discards the time-honored fiction that an amateur tennis-player is one who plays the game simply or solely for the love of it. Every sport devotee knows that while love of the game attracts and holds him to his specialty, there are times when love is absent from his play and when he gets no pleasure from his mightiest efforts. Pride, the honor of club, or section, or country, the fighting spirit—these are among the mixed motives that drive one forward toward victory in the fifth set of a tennis match or in the finish of a Marathon race.