Under the Black Flag

All Bets Are Off

When I was very young my father would take me to the Panatheniac Stadium, built from Pentelic marble in Athens for the first modern Olympics in 1896.  This was in the late 1940’s, and the stadium, which held 70,000, was packed.  The event was track and field, and only amateurs competed.  My father had been Greek champion in the 800 meters, and my uncle was an undefeated (in Greece) hurdler who had placed sixth in the Berlin Games of 1936.  The only professional sport at the time in the birthplace of sport was boxing, but it was almost nonexistent.  (Professional wrestling was, even back then, a circus show, considered not sport but theater.)

I came to know professional sports once I arrived in America—especially baseball, the national pastime—but no matter how hard I tried to convince the old boy about Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, he remained adamant: Sport is only for amateurs who glory in the competition; anyone competing for money is bound to corrupt the Olympic spirit.  Well, except for the Black Sox in 1919, professional team sports in America are not corrupt, if only because of the degree of difficulty involved in getting, say, 20 athletes to throw a game or shave points.

I thought of my father recently when the Australian Open was overshadowed by rumors that matches have been thrown by players, although, as of this writing, no names have surfaced.  But for Chronicles...

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