Missy Franklin

By Sarason D. Liebler | Aug 14, 2012

Missy Franklin is a 17-year-old American swimming sensation who holds various world and Olympic medals and records, and from all accounts is a lovely, dedicated young lady who represents herself, her family, her sport and her country in a stellar fashion.

But I feel sorry for her because Missy has chosen to remain an amateur.

While there may have been other “amateurs” taking part in the recent Olympics in London, I have not heard about them. Missy has declined to “turn” professional because, among other things, she wants to attend college and take part in collegiate sports, which she will be unable to do if she takes sponsorship money and is declared a professional under the rules prescribed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

As I followed her career I felt nothing but admiration for her choice to attempt to live a calmer personal life, though I felt a bit sorry for her family, which has had the intrusion, even the burden, of accommodating the upbringing of a world-class athletic talent.

However, after last week’s spectacle in London and the disgusting hoopla generated by NBC, I would urge Missy to make the switch. She need not give up her integrity and her obvious decent demeanor, but her quest for the myth of staying officially an amateur is in fact letting herself be exploited by commercialization while receiving no compensation or fair return.

Missy, and every other participant in top-level regulated athletics, works hard. Their lives are changed. While it may start out as fun and a challenge to reach the top levels, it has to become a life-controlling obsession.

So, if accepting this as a fact, I am afraid that a young person like Missy, in attempting to remain amateurs are simply letting themselves be exploited. Indeed, the entire mechanism for the Olympic games, or major college sports, such as Division I college football, by the NCAA or similar sanctioning bodies, is driven by an effort to commercially exploit the athletes.

This all becomes more disturbing and confusing when I look at the sorry spectacle of the NCAA sanctions against Penn State. Penn State and its “amateur” football players, its thousands of alumni and students are effectively paying for a crime that has everything to do with one man's sick perversion and nothing at all to do with the macro overall public benefit of the university. The NCAA has stated that they want Penn State to manage the disbursement of the fine-generated funds so that it is spent on efforts to stop child molestation.

A good thought, but I believe it is more likely to simply have been engineered so that Penn State is reimbursing the NCAA to the tune of $60 million for injury to its image and its future financial returns that it feels has been jeopardized because of the commercial economic overhang of the hideous crimes and ensuing scandal. Part of the sanctions that the NCAA issued included rewriting of the competitive performance of Penn State football over the past years, which reminds me of the air-brushing of many Soviet-era photos to make people who fell out of favor and were shot simply disappear from the historic record.

Looking at the situation after perusing just a bit of the Olympic coverage, I have concluded that Missy’s attempt to remain an NCAA-qualified amateur is a futile gesture that will not be appreciated by any, while it will cost her and her family significant security in a monetary sense.

Does this again reveal my deep underlying cynicism for modern society? I suppose so, but my cynicism is not reserved for modern society only, but rather reflects my view of imperfect mankind over recorded history.

So I wish Missy well. Let her chose her own path and maintain her manner and integrity in any manner she chooses, but I hope she does not let the system exploit her as it does thousands of other athletes.

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