Over the centuries, sport has picked up a great deal of prestige as well as a great many participants. No athlete was ever denied burial in consecrated ground simply because he was an athlete, as actors once were because they were actors; things were never that bad. Still, sport is more respectable than it used to be, as anyone can see by reading back numbers of the Atlantic, a magazine that has covered sport somewhat less intensively, but for 96 years nine months and two weeks longer, than SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Last week the Atlantic celebrated its hundredth birthday, as lively as it was back in 1857 when it and the world and Queen Victoria were all young together. In that early day, thrift and industry were the prime virtues, leisure belonged to the leisure class, and sport was distrusted as a waste of time. The Atlantic, for the most part, left sport alone. In 1882 it did fire a blast called The Prominence of Athleticism in England: "The unfettered mind of America cannot help condemning, with feelings of irrepressible contempt, that miscalled energy that expends itself in frivolity and destruction of time."
And now look—only 75 years later, the times, and the mind of America, have changed. Sport is everywhere, from the chessboard to the stadium, from skis and spiked boots on the mountaintops to skin-divers under the sea. It is in the pages of the Atlantic, too, and has been for decades. Lou Boudreau is an Atlantic author and so is Birdie Tebbetts. So are Gene Tunney and Sarah Palfrey. The Atlantic has reported on baseball, big-game hunting, auto racing, salmon fishing and skiing, and has kept an eye, stern and intellectual, to be sure, on college football. It had a man near Wimbledon in 1937 to catch an early glimpse of televised sport: "Imagine a large radio console with an aperture about a foot square.... There is Parker...so plain you can see the stripe on his shorts."
Stephen Leacock delighted Atlantic readers back in 1936 with a piece about his private fish pond, a lovely hidden spot to which he invited only the most expert and devoted fishermen, listening sympathetically to their complicated explanations of failure without ever telling them that there were no fish whatever in the pond. And in 1948 Stephen Potter gave his famous dissertation on Golfmanship. ("Americans visiting [England] for a championship have sometimes created a tremendous effect by letting it be known that, on the voyage over, in order to keep in practice, they drove new golf balls from the deck of the Queen Mary into the Atlantic")
The Atlantic started out, and has largely remained, a magazine devoted to politics, science and art. But what it is really devoted to is significant human activity. Nowadays that includes sport. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, just past 3, admiringly awards the old Atlantic a long-drawn locomotive and a go-team-go!
CHANGE OF JOCKEYS
Half an hour's drive east of New York's Belmont Park sits the 22-acre farm which has been home to Jockey Ted Atkinson, 41, for several years now. It contains a comfortably stocked library (Atkinson's favorite reading and rereading: the novels of Sir Walter Scott), and a sturdy fireplace carved with the legend "Give Me, Great God, Say I, A Little Farm, in Summer Cool, in Winter Warm." Now in his 20th year as a jockey, Atkinson has won more than $16 million worth of purses, and you have to travel to win purses like that. Most of the 16 million was won for a much bigger farm near by—400-acre Greentree, for which Atkinson has been contract rider for 11 years.
For all those years, whenever a horse flying the pink and black silks of Greentree jogged onto the track there was no need for a racegoer to look at his program. It was Atkinson for Greentree: Atkinson and Tom Fool; Atkinson and Capot; Atkinson and Shut Out; Atkinson and Devil Diver. And he rode just as if every race were the Kentucky Derby.
Last week the nostalgic association ended. Greentree said it was releasing Ted because its horses needed the five-pound apprentice allowance that John Ruane could give. And Ted, already established, might be hurt by not being allowed to accept other mounts.