Pros: are they really, now? -
As a rule of thumb I never write (or even say) anything bad about skaters. Only skaters should have the right to express criticism, anger or spite about other skaters, don’t you think? But there are a few of them that unfortunately belong to a bunch I don’t like: pros that behave unlike a professional athlete should do.
First of all, allow me to describe what a “pro” is: the dictionary says “An athlete who plays for pay”, and quite so. “Pay” might mean anything, from a set of wheels to big bucks, agreed? All right then, but a professional in any trade of life is –by definition- someone that’s being paid to do whatever they’re supposed to do in the right and proper way. For instance, if a bus driver stops for a beer and a game of poker during his shift, he is definitely being unprofessional, isn’t he? So I wonder WHY on earth there are skaters that do not comply with their side of the deal…
Someone might argue that professionalism in our sport is a new concept, not totally assimilated yet by the skaters: not so. More than twenty years ago, at the end of my first season as a senior (damn, am I old!), my Italian club’s manager gave me an envelope containing a check. It came as a huge surprise because I never expected such treat (as I was a middle-of –the rank skater): I asked him the reason of this “gift”. He answered: “that’s no gift, it’s a paycheck for your services as a supporting skater to our top athletes”. The surprise doubled as I looked at the cheque and saw the amount: it was the equivalent to a three months supply of beers, condoms and bargain whores... which I obviously purchased. What would you do being 18, Italian and with a hasty surge of money in your pocket?
Anyway, from that moment on my views on training and racing changed drastically. I mean, I was competing FOR MONEY! Mind, it was by no means a salary, just a lousy paycheck at the end of the summer, but for a couple of seasons I kept happily doing it, training harder than ever and giving everything for my mates’ victories, because I considered myself a PRO.
About ten years ago, at the height of the inline frenzy, televised races were common in the USA and big bucks were distributed among skaters, but problems started to arise: a few top athletes acting like pop stars, young guns readily ignoring their contract clauses, managers getting in the way… A situation that couldn’t last for long, and it didn’t.
Nowadays there are more factors involved, there’s no TV and clubs are not able to finance skaters, so sponsors are the main funding source in the sport. Unfortunately, almost no industry-unrelated sponsor has interests in skating, so what’s left is just a handful of manufacturers allocating a significant fraction of their annual budget into a team. In such scenario, can anybody try to explain to me WHY there are still skaters who do not strictly adhere to sponsor’s requests? I mean, sponsors are not philanthropists, for fuck’s sake. Why don’t those rogue skaters show up at a certain race or exhibition? Why do they sell or exchange the received equipment without authorization? Why do they forget to train? Why do they not send a couple of pictures or a report of the event as requested? Why do they simulate injuries? Why do they shop for contracts, searching for the best bidder? Why do they keep asking for free stuff, then bash about their sponsor’s products? And I can go on and on.
Luckily there is a limited number of such misfits, as I said before, however every season a few newcomers would do the same mistakes again and again. Nobody teaches them evidently, but it must be said it’s a question of common sense as well. So allow me to point out this: you’re no star, kid. As Bont used to say, if your face is not printed in my cereal box you’re not worth sponsoring… For years I’ve been sponsoring “second rate” elite athletes with small amounts of money or equipment just to help them to go ahead: about half of them failed to deliver my –very undemanding- requests in exchange. As a result, I tend to avoid sponsoring anybody unless I’m 100% sure they’ll honour the contract. Sponsors don’t expect much gratitude, but at least try to pay off somehow what you’ve got from them, arseholes! You bet these days the manufacturing brands are even more cautious than I am! There’s not much people willing to spend dosh in skaters, and if you f***ck up with one of them, you’ll cripple your chances to be sponsored in the future.
Granted, there is the odd bastard among sponsors as well. But that is a different subject, material for another article.
So please, boys and gals: if you’re remunerated to race (no matter what or how much), stay true to your employers, repay them with flawless integrity, try to do more than whatever you are expected to do, help them sell their product. In short, be a professional. Remember that before and after being an elite athlete, you’re a PERSON. Most probably you won’t be able to subsist from skating for too long, and definitely you will not be racing forever, always bear that in mind.
Money comes and goes, respect is eternal. In a few years time you could hear somebody say about you: “yeah, a great skater but a real scumbag”. So start working on your reputation right NOW.
Marcello Bresin (written with the contributions and observations of certain major sponsors)