In sports, an amateur is a person who earns no money from his participation or skill in athletic contests or exhibitions. Until about forty years ago there was a very sharp distinction between the amateur and the professional. The amateur was considered a gentleman, and the professional (who was usually a teacher, coach, or paid contestant) was not. Most of the distinction has vanished, but Olympic matches are still open only to amateurs, as are intercollegiate and interscholastic sports. A person who has once received pay for playing can never again be an amateur; in 1914 the famous Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe, was required to give up the prizes he had won in an Olympic competition because he had once received payment for playing baseball.
There are various organizations in the United States that make the rules to determine what constitutes an amateur in different kinds of competitions. The most important of these are the Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association, the Amateur Athletic Union, the U.S. Gold Association, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, and the American Olympic Committee.
Until the 1940s a person lost amateur standing if he accepted payment for endorsing sporting goods, working for a manufacturer of sporting goods, writing regularly about his sport, or earning money in any way that he would be able to do only because of his prominence in the sporting field. Some of these restrictions have been lifted, but teaching or playing the sport for money is still forbidden to the amateur. In many cases the associations and the athletes have conspired to get around these rules with large payments for expenses in traveling and living away from home, and with prizes that can be sold and converted into cash.