Basketball Philosophy: For the Love of the Game?

Far be it for me to inject a sense of cynicism into a massive marketing scheme, so instead I’ll let S.W. Pope do so. Here are his thoughts from the introduction to his book, Patriotic Games: Sporting Traditions in the American Imagination, 1876 – 1926:

Pure amateurism never existed in the United States. The romanticized notions of “pure” sport played for “the love of the game” by athletes disinterested in profit were established in American sporting parlance only in the late 19th century, after institutional control over collegiate sports had begun to shift from the students to presidents and alumni.

So what does some stuffy old jargon about college amateurism in the 1890s have to do with Derrick Rose in 2013? Like basketball, EVERYTHING!

You see, in this ad, Adidas is portraying Rose as a “pure” athlete. Go ahead and strip away all the fame, the glory, the social import, the celebrity birthday parties, the commercials (wait not the commercials!) and the money. What you still have is a “pure” athlete playing for the love of the game.

And this isn’t to say Derrick Rose doesn’t love basketball. But this is to say he plays basketball in the NBA (and certainly is signed to a fat multi-million dollar deal with Adidas) for reasons well beyond loving basketball. It’s ludicrous to think otherwise. He’s an adult and any grown person should have interest beyond a sport or any single activity. No person should be “pure” in this fashion, they should be a melange of influences, desires, and outlets.

The ideology of amateurism downplays this complexity and this humanity.

At its core the myth of pure amateurism has always been about exploiting. The college athlete cannot be professional, but the college coaches, administrators, presidents, and media can be. Maintaining the athlete’s purity maintains the control of the professionals.

The professional marketers at Adidas have ingeniously co-opted this basic rhetoric for the amateur consumer of advertising. For a cool [insert dollar amount] you can buy Rose’s new shoes and show that all you care about is basketball, too.

Just don’t expect athletic purity in the capitalist exchange.

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