Friday, July 2, 2010

Amateurism vs. Professionalism

The world of sport often finds itself conflicted between its two broadest divisions and standards of ethics. In the USA we see it most clearly when contrasting NCAA Basketball during March Madness and the National Basketball Association during its Playoffs. We see it when we compare College Football (American Football) at any level and the National Football League. The whole world is seeing it in the comparisons made between World Cup Football (Soccer) and that of professional football played in the Premier League, the Bundesliga or any other system around the globe. The contrast between amateur sport and professional sport is often striking and very important for us who serve those who live in these various systems.

Many people speak sentimentally (and may I say naively) about amateur sport and pretend that all its players, coaches and administrations have the purest of motives and intentions in everything. This is certainly not a consistently true perspective. In much of amateur sport there is plenty of ambition, drive, cheating, envy and pride to sully the sport’s image. Possibly the major difference between amateurism and professionalism is that in pro sports, there is not even an illusion of such nobility. In many cases the “win at all costs” ethic is not only obvious, but openly stated. Much of professional sport’s value is measured in terms of the sum of salaries paid, the economic impact on a local community or the influence of the club on the local culture.

Sadly, the longer one competes and the more one achieves in sport, the more likely he or she is to experience the worst ethics in sporting life. At each incrementally higher level of sport one normally begins to see more and more degradation of the experience while at the same time finding that the system increasingly rewards selfishness, arrogance and individualism.

At its best amateur sport values these things:

• Teamwork

• Personal development

• Honor among competitors

• Fair play

• Respect for team leaders, coaches, officials, etc.

At its best professional sport values these things:

• Excellence in preparation and performance

• Acquisition of the best players for one’s team

• Accountability

• Individual achievement

At their worst both amateur and professional sport values these things:

• Individual achievement over one’s team goals

• Winning as the highest value

• “It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught.”

• Selfish attitudes

• Star players over coaches

We who represent Christ Jesus in the world of sport must be stewards of its culture. We can work to shape attitudes, to inform the ethics of sport with scriptural truth, to openly discuss these issues with the coaches, players, administrators and others who are the opinion leaders and decision makers for our sport communities. We must be willing to take responsibility for those whom we serve and to redeem the world of sport by carrying Christ’s presence into it. Whether we work at the most obscure levels of amateur sport or under the most glaring spotlight of professional sport, let’s honor our Lord by our faithful application of the Bible to the daily sporting life.

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