Last week, 88 years old and not feeling too well, old Cy sat down in his chair and looked out over the churchyard for the last time.
THE SANTEE SITUATION
Wes Santee, the great mile runner, has been suspended by the Amateur Athletic Union. The reason: he violated the rules governing the amount of expense money an amateur athlete may legitimately accept to pay the costs of travel and subsistence. The effect: Santee may never run again, and that would mean he would miss the 1956 Olympic Games.
The facts in the case are reasonably clear. Last May Santee flew from his home in Kansas to California and there, between May 14 and May 22, competed in three track meets. He received a total of $1,127.85 in expense money. This was obviously more than the cost of his round-trip air travel plus $15 per diem expenses (the maximum the AAU allows.) Therefore the AAU suspended him.
It's as simple as that, except that it isn't, really. Prominent amateur runners have received more than the legal limit of expenses for decades. It is a common, if not widely publicized, practice. Santee's crime would seem to be that he made it too obvious. He is an egocentric young man, whose entire life revolves about his running ability. Where running was for Roger Bannister a means of escape, of violent but harmless self-expression, it is for David Wesley Santee a way of life. He runs in every track meet he can. Because he is such a great runner he is a valuable gate attraction and meet directors eagerly seek his acceptance of their invitations. Expense money flows Santee's way. People talk about it. People write about it. Investigation follows, and suspension.
Santee has appealed the suspension. His defense is no denial of the amount of expense money he received or a denial that it is technically in excess of the maximum amount allowed. But he holds that the maximum allowed is unrealistic, that he is a top-flight athlete whose name is widely known and that everywhere he goes he is constantly in demand to appear at schools, at track clinics, at luncheons and dinners, on radio and television. He holds that an athlete of his stature simply cannot live in a good hotel, eat in decent restaurants, fulfill his obligations and still stay within the AAU maximum of $12 a day for living expenses, plus $3 a day for incidentals.
In this, of course, Santee is right. Ask any traveling businessman how far $12 or $15 a day takes him. But the question arises: how amateur is an amateur who finds it necessary to travel that much and spend that much?
That is the crux of the problem. In any other major sport, and many minor ones, there is a professional outlet for the athlete who continues in competition past the time most of his youthful companions are retiring from sport to earn a living. This holds true for baseball, football, tennis, basketball, golf, even figure skating and swimming. But what is there for the great track and field athlete to do as he approaches the full flowering of his abilities in his mid-20s? He can go on as an amateur or he can quit. If he is to go on and compete to the best of his ability (and there is no other way to compete) he must devote hours each day to training, and concentrate most of his attention on his running (or jumping, or vaulting or whatever). He is then past being a so-called simon-pure amateur. Running is no longer a pastime; it is a career, one which involves financial problems beyond those facing the ordinary amateur.
There it is. Runners like Santee are more than amateurs and yet are not professionals. Unless the laws governing the sport are broadened and clarified the problem will not end with the suspension of Santee and the destruction of his superb career just as it approaches its peak, any more than it did when Paavo Nurmi was suspended, or Jesse Owens or Gundar Haegg. Other young men coming to greatness will face the same difficulties, be burdened with a like feeling of guilt if they accept too much expense money, the same economic burden if they don't.
The world does change; perhaps it's time the rules do, too.