Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Amateur v. PRO: Part 2—PRO

To recap: athlete gets support: supporting government gets international prestige. That would constitute quid pro quo, which makes what the athlete does a job. We might at this point dispense with the notion of an “amateur” athletics at the Olympic level.

Art vs. Commercialism?

There is a burgeoning practice in Hollywood of placing products in movies and television. It started simply enough: Recall the Klein (then Cannondale, then Klein again) hanging in Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment? Both companies sold oodles of bikes thanks to the cache that came with the Seinfeld association. Today, though, the practice has become an organized sales pitch where script writers are being courted to make particular products are part of the story arc. Done gracefully, a product placement can slip into a storyline as seamlessly as Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt. Done poorly, it has the ability to distract the storyline, making the final product a clumsy, long and heavy-handed advertisement. Seeing the cast members of American Idol sing the praises of Ford just doesn’t seem quite so cool. Actually, to most people, it seems utterly lame.

It’s not hard to guess why we want our entertainment to be free of commercial interests. If anything, the reduction of our free-time interests to the classification “entertainment” is part of the problem. Entertainment implies a kind of throw-away or optional quality. However, it’s anything but.

Whether your spend your evenings reading books, watching movies or sports on television, or listening to music, each of these diversions has the power to brighten our lives. Done well, they can show us the power of the human spirit and encourage us to risk achieving more ourselves.

And there’s the rub: The most powerful stories usually come from the greatest practitioners of the discipline, not the upstarts. Sure, there are exceptions, but the performances that inspire our lives share a common commitment. Martin Scorcese, The Beatles, William Shakespeare, Claude Monet and Eddy Merckx committed their lives to their professions. Each epitomizes what it means to be PRO. There’s no way to reconcile the Olympic ideal with an amateur status. What cycling needs now is no different from what it has needed all along: We want great champions of integrity. We want riders who race clean so that when we see a win, it confirms our belief in the value of honesty and hard work.

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