|From “Amateurs” to “Student-Athletes”: Gentlemanly Virtues and College Athletics
by Anthony Giambusso
, Metropolitan State College of Denver
This presentation examines the consequences of the semantic shift from calling college athletes “amateurs” to labeling them “student-athletes.” This semantic shift mirrors a cultural shift in attitudes towards college athletes. An “amateur” – etymologically a “lover of” the sport for its own sake – was a gentleman who, among other qualities, refused to step beneath his class and accept pay for athletic performance. The more recent term “student-athlete” was originally employed as a legal maneuver designed to help colleges avoid workman’s compensation claims from injured athletes who, as “student-athletes,” did not have the same rights as workers.
One could argue that this semantic shift mirrors a cultural decline from the old ideals of amateurism to a quid pro quo culture where student-athletes require payment in the form of tuition in exchange for athletic performance; the subtle professionalization of college athletics. Alternatively, one could argue that this same semantic shift represents a cultural move towards a democratization of college athletics from the dominance of upper-class, white, male “amateurs” to “student-athletes” from diverse class, race, and gender backgrounds. Too often, debates over college athletics assume one of these two theses to the exclusion of the other. This paper argues that both theses accurately depict significant cultural shifts whose nearly contradictory trajectories must be taken into account if we hope to have fruitful debates concerning issues such as compensating college athletes, enforcing Title IX, or even the fairness or lack thereof of the Bowl Championship Series.