The Amateur at Bay
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.
To phrase the amateur issue somewhat differently, yet still simply, if a player gains pecuniarily by his play, and plays for that gain, he is not an amateur.
The essence of the approaching decision must be looked for in the definition. The purpose of that definition should be, not to create professionals, but to preserve amateurism. The definition, in order to win whole-souled allegiance in the world of tennis, should be a direct attack upon money-play and not an indirect attack upon personalities. Neither by word or inference should it imply inferiority in professionals. The professional in tennis can be, and frequently is, as conscientious and idealistic as the 'purest' amateur. The, issue involves neither personal morals nor manners, but merely standards established to keep play wholesome and the money influence out of competitions. We discriminate not for the ignoble purpose of handicapping an individual but for the lofty purpose of protecting a sport.
That, at least, is the ideal function of governing bodies in the field of sport. Such bodies are coeval with the games themselves, the inheritors of proud traditions and the bearers of high responsibilities. The Marylebone Cricket Club in England and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews are excellent examples. In England and the United States tennis-players look up to the respective Lawn Tennis Associations of those countries, without whose governance the game could hardly have grown to present proportions or come into the possession of so long and creditable a past. Twenty-three nations, each with a separate governing body, challenged for this year's Davis Cup.
Among the duties of these governing bodies is that of maintaining amateur standards. Each accepts amateurism as essential, yet they define the amateur in almost as many different ways. Among all these differences of phrase and emphasis, however, one finds the common thread of belief that the amateur is one who is not paid for playing. But maintaining amateur rules is not the whole duty of a tennis governing body. While none but amateurs may compete in official tournaments, not all amateurs may do so. There are considerations of time and space and fitness to reckon with; these are met by regulations which admit some and disbar others. These acts of disbarment are almost as important as rulings on the amateur status yet they are separate and distinct from the cases arising from other cause and it is important that they remain so. This need is frequently lost sight of and the oversight leads to endless confusion.
To be at once fair and safe a governing body should set up a plain and unequivocal amateur rule and then, but not until then, frame regulations for the player. Under these regulations a player may not be permitted to compete in certain tournaments because his club does not belong to the governing organization in charge; or he may be barred because of unsportsmanlike conduct; or because of his age he may be kept out of a junior event. But none of these considerations impugn his amateur status, just as they are powerless to restore a professional to amateurism. Although all lawn-tennis governing-bodies the world over are dedicated to the cause of amateurism, their regulations differ widely. Nevertheless, a player may travel thousands of miles and compete under many flags without being embarrassed by strange regulations. If he measures up to the requirements established at home, he can play abroad, even though his appearance may contravene the tennis code of the country in which he is visiting. This common-sense view accepts the basic distinction between amateurism and player regulations, a distinction which should be as clearly observed at home as abroad.
The essence of the amateur rule of the United States Lawn Tennis Association is contained in Section 4, as follows:
An amateur tennis-player is one who plays tennis solely for the physical benefits he derives therefrom, and to whom the playing of the game is nothing more than a pastime.
This is a wrong and insufficient definition. The motives laid down are not always the ones at work. An amateur player, as I have pointed out, does not play solely for the pleasure and 'physical benefits he derives therefrom'; nor is this anyone's business. Human motives are too mixed to admit of such absolute criteria. Surely it is no violation of amateurism to play under a doctor's orders, or for the sake of keeping one's boastful children in their places, or to keep the Davis Cup from wandering abroad, or for any other reason unconnected with money reward that seems good and sufficient to the player himself.
The English rule wisely avoids strewing the path. of amateurism with such silly obstacles. It deals solely with the receiving of money or its equivalent, directly or indirectly, for playing or teaching tennis. That is a first principle to which we should return.
Of four Acts of Disbarment in the U. S. L. T. A. roster, only one relates even indirectly to the writing of articles on lawn tennis, the source of the present controversy. A player is disbarred for permitting the use of his name in connection with articles which he did not write. The plain inference is that if he does write the articles appearing under his name he is safe. Since none of the men whose amateur status has been thrust into danger lately could be proceeded against under this or any other existing rule, those opposed to 'player-writers' passed last February what is called an 'interpretation' of the amateur rule. This purports to link with another act of disbarment the writing of articles on tennis for substantial compensation. This 'interpretation' is really no part of the amateur rule, albeit the present controversy rages around it.
As is nearly always the case where principles and personalities are equally affected, the personal element has crowded to the front. The direct issue was raised between the U. S. L. T. A. and Champion William T. Tilden, end. It became evident that he would be barred from competition after January 1, 1925. Subsequently attacked . as a 'bad influence' in the game in the report of the Amateur Rule Committee, Tilden resigned as a member of the Olympic and Davis Cup squads. The resulting protest by both players and public forced the U. S. L. T. A. to withdraw the interpretation, invite Tilden to play for the Davis Cup, and appoint a Committee of Seven to review the entire case on its merits. Four members of that Committee have been appointed by President Wightman of the U. S. L. T. A., two favoring the 'interpretation' and two opposed. The latter are Tilden himself and the writer.
I am convinced that this dispute, like many others, arises from confusing the definition of amateurism with regulations governing tournament competitions. The need for regulation is universally admitted; but there is likewise need for discrimination. If a player is employed by a sporting-goods house to exploit his skill and fame for its benefit and his own, he violates every tenet and tradition of amateurism; but if he enters that business just as he would go into the selling of hardware or any other commodity, I do not agree that he should be cast out of amateur circles.
The case for Tilden rests on the same basis. His receipts come from writing, not from play, and they are a measure not of his tennis skill but of his literary skill and industry. He could go on writing articles that would find a ready market long after he ceased to play. In fact his ability to write entertainingly and instructively on tennis will continue to hold his audience for many years. Sam Hardy, one-time Pacific Coast champion, is still earning a substantial income by writing on tennis. If Tilden were to be physically incapacitated to-morrow his income would be more likely to go up than down, because he would have more time in which to produce copy. If the champion were interested only in money, he would quit match play at once and put all his energy into books and articles, as he has more than once been urged to do by publishers. Yet that would be a distinct loss to the game, as he is unquestionably the greatest match tennisplayer that ever lived. The point is that he loves the game for its own sake, and sacrifices his financial well-being every time he competes in a tournament.
Another element worth considering is that Tilden made more money selling insurance than he does writing tennis articles. He quit the former pursuit for reasons honorable to his sporting instinct, because he disliked the work and because it was the baldest recognition of his tennis fame. The latter gave him entree to offices when other solicitors cooled their heels in antechambers; big business men bought insurance from him and then settled back in their chairs to talk of tennis. On the other hand, he likes to write, and likes also to interpret the intricacies of a beloved sport to the countless thousands of devotees remote from the large centres who never see important matches. He relishes the thought that he is assisting in the development of countless young players and in broadening the democratic basis of a clean and zestful sport. Lack of unearned income is surely no fault of his and no obstacle to good repute in America. Why, then, should he not earn his way in the work which appeals most to his nature and for which he is singularly well fitted, especially when it is clear that he is paid for work and not for play?
That is the nub of the whole argument. Actually it is of small moment whether Tilden earns much or little by writing, or whether he puts in only a few hours or all his spare time at his desk.
As an editor I judge that he, as writer, gets what his articles are worth, neither more nor less; there are other qualified tennis-writers, and supply and demand fixes prices, in the long run, of tennis articles as well as of tennis balls. Tilden can safely rest his case on the right of an individual athlete to earn money in any calling he chooses, provided it is earned not by playing or teaching the game.
If need be, Tilden's amateurism might be favorably compared to that of other tennis-players actively interested in the manufacture of tennis equipment.
But why make odious comparisons on false reasoning? It is sheer fallacy to assume that all profits from the sport violate amateurism. Once we start upon that boggy road we invite inevitable breakdown. Is the financial head of a sporting-goods house, ipso facto, a professional player? Are his clerks and stenographers professionals even though they may not even physically touch tennis goods? Is he who makes the cloth covering of tennis balls less an amateur than he who builds ships? And what, in turn, is the status of these purveyors of tennis materials—wool growers and buyers, steel manufacturers, Amazon rubber gatherers, varnish makers, flax growers, and hosts of others who profit legitimately by meeting the wants of two million tennis-players? No; revenue from tennis, as such, is not enough to destroy amateur status.
Even the most excited advocates of drastic tennis-legislation admit that lawn tennis is overwhelmingly amateur. They fear that it may not remain so; therefore they have taken, tentatively, a step utterly without precedent. No other tennis governing body ever has seriously proposed to prohibit the writing of articles on tennis for money. Some have regulated such writing, properly enough, as a matter of discipline. For instance, the Australian Davis Cup players, now in this country, have been forbidden to cable stories of matches but—let Tilden's critics note this well—they are specifically urged to, send newspaper stories back to Australia by mail.
There might be an excuse for expelling the greatest match-player of all time from amateur ranks if his pay for writing articles on tennis depended on his playing in certain tournaments or on his being champion of the United States, just as the employee of a sporting-goods house might be barred if his chief contribution to the business consisted of goods sold through tennis play. But if the latter could hold his job without playing in a single tournament, and if the former could sell his articles exactly as well if he broke his leg in June and could do no more than hobble till October, how could the amateur standing of either be successfully attacked?
The gist of the matter is: 'Are Tilden's writings on tennis worth what he receives for them, regardless of any playing he does?' As the editor of a tennis magazine I am both qualified and compelled to answer with a categorical, 'Yes.' And as long as truth rightfully compels me to make that answer, it also compels me to fight for Tilden's amateur status against all combinations of men, circumstances, and sophistries.