Avery Brundage on Amateurism: Preaching and Practice

By Brichford, Maynard | Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Avery Brundage on Amateurism: Preaching and Practice


Brichford, Maynard, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research


That we should practice what we preach is generally admitted; but anyone who preaches what he and his hearers practice must incur the gravest moral disapprobation. (1)

The Webster's unabridged dictionary defined sports amateurism as the practice characteristic of an amateur sportsman as one who engages in sport solely for the pleasure and physical, mental or social benefits he may derive there from, and to whom sport is nothing more than an avocation. This definition comes from the constitution of the Amateur Athletic Union, of which Mr. Brundage was the president. Sport is defined as a diversion, game or contest. Competitive sport involves success, as in the Olympic motto-citius, altius, fortius. Professionalism is following a profession or sport for a livelihood, or for gain. In the private sector, it may involve the "Midas touch." It may also lead to the zealous retention of wealth as advocated by the "Tea Party" politicians and the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government affiliated with the University of Illinois Foundation. (2)

Physical culture is the systematic care and development of the physique. It has been promoted by Bernarr McFadden and Charles Atlas. In Urbana-Champaign there are eighteen flourishing fitness centers and a facility for marketing publications on human kinetics. Amateurism is also associated with idealism and Utopian concepts. Global organizations, such as the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, promote international amity and development. The "global village" and social justice concepts involve voluntary participation and funding. Programs for the distribution of wealth and the "Robin Hood" concept seek to benefit less fortunate persons and countries. (3)

Avery Brundage was proud to claim that he was a self-made amateur. He was born in Detroit in 1887. In 1892, his father, Charles Brundage, moved the family to Chicago, where the Columbian Exposition would provide employment for a stone cutter. In 1893, his father left the family. Avery's mother, Amelia Lloyd Brundage, took a clerical position and raised Avery and his brother. Avery worked as a newspaper boy and vacationed in Michigan with the family of his uncle Edward J. Brundage. Uncle Edward was involved in Chicago politics. (4)

In a high school manual arts class, Avery fashioned a hammer to practice for a field event. In 1905, he entered the University of Illinois in Urbana. He excelled in civil engineering courses and worked on Chicago building construction jobs in the summer. He played on the university's basketball team and was a member of the track and field team coached by Harry Gill. A talk by an older student who had competed at the London Olympics in 1908 impressed Avery. Upon graduation in 1909, he was employed by the prestigious architectural firm of Holabird and Roche. He also followed his uncle Edward Brundage in joining the Chicago Athletic Association. He supervised $7,500,000 of construction work and continued his track and field training. He resigned from his engineering position to try out for the 1912 Olympic team. He made the team as an all-around (decathlon) athlete. In the Olympic games in Sweden, Avery was profoundly impressed by the idealism of the Olympic movement of Pierre de Coubertin. Avery was less talented than Jim Thorpe and won no Olympic medals. After the games, he joined two other American athletes who competed in Finland and Russia and toured Greece and Italy. (5)

Back in the United States, Avery entered in all-around competitions and won national championships in 1914, 1916 and 1918. World War I brought an increased interest in physical training. In the May 1919 American Boy, Brundage recounted his success in the all-around and urged readers to compete in the "most prized of all tests of man's ability." He predicted that physical training would join mental training. (6)

In 1915, he chartered the Avery Brundage Company. From 1923 to 1928, Chicago construction exceeded $250,000,000 a year. …

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