For the love of the games

Praise the Olympic Games for what they are: the purest form of professional sports we have today.

David Catt
David Catt

Cal Ripken Jr. loved baseball. He loved it so much he played an MLB- record 2,632 straight games, spanning 17 seasons. His record, no doubt, will stand the test of time because baseball, like every other major professional sport, has been corrupted down to the pine tar.

You think the players still play for the love of the game? Note the messy situation each time a player’s contract expires. The players often hold out for more money until executives meet their demands. In addition, this year NFL rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree didn’t play the first five games of the season because his $23.5 million contract wasn’t enough to “feed his family.” What we could really use in professional sports are some quality athletes who love the the thrill of competition more than the allure of money.

Thankfully, tomorrow night the Olympics, which may be mankind’s last virtuous battleground, begin. For two weeks, the best of the best will compete for country, honor, and, surprisingly, not very much money.
Whereas the minimum salary for an NBA rookie is $450K, relatively unknown Olympic athletes often make just enough from part-time jobs to support training and travel. Remember all those Home Depot commercials for the Olympics? According to, 33 of the 211 athletes on the 2006 Winter Olympics Team were employed part-time by Home Depot through the corporation’s efforts to support the team.

The Olympics have been open to professionals since the mid-1970s, but only a few athletes in high-profile sports (hockey, snowboarding, etc.) benefit greatly from outside endorsements. To level the playing field, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) began supporting athletes monetarily a decade ago.

“In early 2000, we looked at it and realized we had athletes who were bartending to pay their training bills,” Steve Roush, USOC official, said in a 2008 USA Today interview. “They weren’t able to train at the level they needed.”

Now, athletes are able to receive up to $36,000 a year from the USOC and obtain bonuses for top-eight finishes at the world championships and medaling at the Olympics. Gold medalists receive $25,000 per medal, which isn’t very much for someone who is the best in the world at something. Silver and bronze medalists receive $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

This sounds like a nice paycheck, but when compared to any benchwarmer in a major league sport, it’s nothing. Training for the Olympics is basically a full-time job for these people, and for the time and effort they put in, the monetary reward is insignificant. There are no extra contract incentives for making the Pro Bowl, fancy hotels or garages full of sports cars (though snowboarder Shaun White does drive a Lamborghini). The most high tech these athletes get is in their workouts at the state-of-the-art U.S. Olympic Training Centers.

When it comes down to it, above all other athletes, Olympians strive to do their best simply for the pure love of competition, and that is what sets the games apart from other professional sports. The passion is unmatched, the drama immeasurable. For them, there is no tomorrow unless they want to train like animals for another four years. They have reached the biggest stage and put it all on the line. That is why NBC shelled out $2.2 billion to televise the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. Television captures the passion in sports, and we are undoubtedly astonished by and addicted to it.

Tune in these next two weeks, and think about all the things these people have sacrificed. Many could have made more money in another line of work, spent more time with their families and led a normal life, but they’ve endured and persevered to bolster the United States with a sense of pride and preserve the purity of sport.