Professional Athletes

September 1, 1971

Report Outline
Mood of Discontent Among Pro Athletes
Professional Sports' Rise to Affluence
Complaints About Sports' Labor Relations
Special Focus

Mood of Discontent Among Pro Athletes

Millions of american men harbor the Walter Mittyesque wish of becoming a professional athlete. Fame, fortune and a life of ease would be theirs, they imagine, if only they possessed the talent to be major-leaguers. Such dreams find nourishment in reports that Lew Alcindor of the Milwaukee Bucks earns $250,000 a year; in television commercials starring Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox or Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves; in the phenomenal success of the drive-in food chain started by Gino Marchetti, former defensive end of the Baltimore Colts. To the dedicated armchair athlete, the athlete on the field lives in the best of all possible worlds.

The view from the playing field is markedly different. Numerous athletes assert that their sport—be it baseball, football, hockey, or whatever—involves at least as much drudgery as excitement. The $100,000-plus salaries paid to such superstars as Willie Mays and Wilt Chamberlain are very much the exception. Furthermore, all athletes must live with the unsettling knowledge that age will cut short their careers if injuries do not. They are haunted also by fear of being traded from a desirable to an undesirable team, of being demoted to the minor leagues or, worst of all, being released outright before qualifying for a major-league pension.

Black athletes complain that racism is as much of a problem in professional sports as in other walks of life. The Negro player, it is charged, must be more than equal in ability to his white counterpart to win a place on a major-league roster. It is asserted also that unwritten quotas restrict the number of blacks on professional teams and that certain playing positions are virtually reserved for whites. And few blacks find coaching or managerial jobs once their playing days are over.

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