BY PAUL D. BOWKER
The importance of the U.S. Amateur Sports Act of 1978 still rings loudly through the Olympic Movement.
The late Ted Stevens, a Republican Alaska senator for 40 years, authored the federal legislation that — among other things — resulted in the creation of the U.S. Olympic Committee as the centralized body for U.S. Olympic sports and the many national governing bodies (NGBs), which operate the sports on Olympic and other levels.
Stevens never did an Olympic gymnastics routine on the rings or ran a leg of the men’s 4x100 relay or jumped in the pool to swim the 200-meter freestyle, but the work he performed in the halls of Washington on behalf of amateur sports earned him high marks within the Olympic community.
In fact, the Amateur Sports Act now carries his name on it.
“It laid the foundation for what the U.S. Olympic Committee and NGBs are today,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “It was an important step forward in providing a governance model and an oversight of the Olympic movement that has stood the test of time.”
Stevens, who died in a plane crash in 2010 at the age of 86, was known for visiting athletes at U.S. Olympic Training Centers, including the one in Colorado Springs, and for attending U.S. Olympic functions.
He was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame presented by Allstate during the induction ceremony held in July in Chicago. He was inducted as a special contributor, along with six Olympians, one Paralympian, a coach, a veteran and the 2004 U.S. Olympic Women’s Softball Team. NBC Sports Network will broadcast the ceremony Aug. 23.
The United States topped the London 2012 Olympic Games with 104 medals, including 46 golds. Penny believes Stevens’ landmark legislation carved a path for that kind of a medal harvest.
“He understood that in order for our Olympic Movement to be successful in the United States and not rely on government dollars, that it had to have empowerment, it had to have a backbone,” Penny said. “That’s essentially what the Amateur Sports Act does. He really did lay the groundwork for the success that we’ve had as a country in the Olympics for the last 30 years.”
Nina Kemppel, a four-time Olympian and now a member of the USOC Board of Directors, said there has not been another like him.
“In my view, he’s irreplaceable,” she told the Anchorage Daily News. “He always stood up for us in Congress. We need to find another Ted Stevens who will be a proponent for us.”
The Stevens Amateur Sports Act, which was revised in 1998, came on the heels of a three-year study by the President’s commission on Olympic Sports. The act halted an ongoing battle between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Amateur Athletic Union over the control of athletes and opened the door to a centralized USOC. Nowadays, the U.S. Paralympics is part of the USOC as well.
Shortly after passage of the act, the USOC headquarters moved from New York City to Colorado Springs, where it is today. Included among the headquarters is a large U.S. Olympic Training Center that is used by multiple sports for training and is host to national and international competitions. Training centers later popped up in Chula Vista, Calif. and Lake Placid, N.Y.
Mike Moran, the former chief spokesman for the USOC, wrote in 2010 that Stevens “will never be forgotten by those of us who were part of the rebirth of the organization in 1978, its move to our cherished Colorado Springs and the Rockies, and by thousands of athletes who had a dream of greatness and those who are just now beginning to create their own.”
Stevens strongly opposed the U.S. boycott of the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games and in 2004 was highly involved with USOC reform. In 1999, Stevens received a USOC Honorary Coach of the Year award.
“No one in American political life did more for amateur sports than Ted,” Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports, told the Associated Press in a 2010 interview.
Stevens, a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, was first appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1968 and served until 2008. Stevens was convicted on corruption charges that later thrown out just before ending his time in the senate. No other Republican has served that long, although South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond served for 48 years as both a Republican and Democrat. Stevens was so popular among Alaskans that he became known as “Uncle Ted.” The airport in Anchorage was named the Ted Stevens International Airport in his honor. Every year, the fourth Saturday in July is proclaimed as “Ted Stevens Day” in Alaska.