George Sauer was a receiver for the New York Jets 1965-70 and is the second-leading pass receiver lifetime for the NFL team with 309.
In the mid-1960s, a so-called athletic revolution began taking shape. Scholastic, college and professional sports had long had critics among educators and others, but now the noise was serious, coming from athletes themselves - and from more than just a few malcontents.
There was alarm: This was something fundamentally sacrilegious.Sacred games and rites were being threatened from within. The very values of competitive sport were under fire by those who were supposed to embody them.
This, of course, was a reflection on the country at large. The student movement, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war all seemed to catalyze rumblings in the sports world.
There were complaints about abuses against athletes and about petty despotisms in the sports "industry" at all levels. And since many sports luminaries and military men had long espoused a kinship between competitive sports and the military, the criticism ripened stridently as the war escalated.
It was charged that athletes and sport itself were being exploited by coaches and athletic departments. Lines drew shaply and, to emphasize authority, this criticism was countered with dress codes and loyalty otahs.
Black athletes spoke out, charging that many athletic departments and professional managements were openly racist, repressive, insensitive, unresponsive. Suspensions and dismissals followed, which was fuel, and the fire spread.
Sport, as a reflection of society, had become an intensely drawn microcosm. Much of the protest and criticism was valid. Much of it, achieving hyperbole, had a cancelling effect.
At first, the commotion was generally met with incredulity. Protesting athletes seemed too privileged to gripe. Early on, they were passed off as misguided ingrates and associated with campus radicals and other abject sorts. But the fire kept spreading.
At the 1968 Olympics, the black fists of Tommie Smith and john Carlos could not quite be passed off. Righteous indignation erupted: sport should not be used as a social or political platform. However, in actuality, sport had long been used to promote the status quo.
At the professional level, were some dramatic developments. Reserve and option clauses came under attack. Suits were filed. The NFL players went on strike. Public reaction to these moves was minimally sumpathetic. These were men highly paid for playing games. Ninety-thousand-dollar slaves, indeed!
A few NFL players, myself included, left football altogether with productive years still ahead. We directed separate and varied criticism at the NFL, but a common point was its overt association with the promotion of the Vietnam war. The implied analogy of athlete and warrior, we seemed to agree, perverted the idea of athletic competition.
The athletic revolution spawned a raft of books and articles by athletic dissidents such as "Out of Their League," "They Call It a Game," "Meat on the Hoof," "Deep Water," "The Revolt of the Black Arhlete." And more than a few sportswriters contributed perceptive coverage, which was itself a kind of revolution.
But as the '70s progressed, much of this went out of style. Again we have a reflection of society at large. After times of turmoil, the movement is inward. Flights of daring give way to a kind of weary self-absorption. There are hungering for easy answers, for painless rebirths, for exotic but cheap grace. And a weary reactionism seems to fester. The mythological models now seem to be Narcissus and Midas.
But a large reason why the athletic revolution has faded is that it accomplished a great deal. There is a lessened need to rebel. Athletes have begun to approach human status. Abuses, once standard, no longer have sanction. Racism is no longer acceptable, although it still exists at closet level.
Pro athetes now have more voice in the policies of their sports. Players' associations have grown much stronger. Minimum salaries have risen dramatically. Fringe benefits have increased. Reserve and option clauses might eventually be eliminated altogether.
However, as important as these developments have been, the athletic revolution never quite got to the heart of the matter. The movement was diffuse, working on different fronts beneath different banners. At times it seemed contradictory, appearing socialistic and libertarian at the same time. Understandably, it centered almost totally upon immediate aspects.
The goal of the athletic revolution was to return some of sport to the participants and to challenge the hypocrisies of those who controlled it. It went far but not deep. There was no sustained effort at rethinking the entire concept of sport. There was no unifying philosophy, no central idea.
there was little valuable thought dealing with the nature of challenge, the meaning of competition, the abstract nature of victory, the fact that all societies have invented games and the nature of archetypal inner quests.
So the revolution in sports was not comprehensive. It dropped no anchor. This, I believe, will be significant in the future. Some what ironically, it was the women in the revolution who made an important point here! Not only did women professionals demand better pay but women generally wanted expanded programs and more participation in sport.
Therefore, women's sport not only reatfirmed that, as physical beings, women are more tan merely sexual but also athletic excellence is not exclusively masculine and that the inner rewards of sport are of value not only to men. This is no trivial point. It bids us to expand our understanding of sport experience. The anachronistic associations with masculinity rites and militarism can be left behind.
An understanding of sport must deal with the fact of our finitude and our reactive concerns with varieties of power and with why humans invent, perform, and manipulate metaphors of power. Revolutions generally attempt to make fresh statements about human nature. But here, the athletic revolution came up short.