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When I was a youngster, there was an ongoing argument about the "professionalization" of the Olympics. Americans carped that we sent amateurs to compete against professional athletes from Eastern Europe, whose full-time work was their athletic pursuit.

That complaint has largely died down, of course, now that Americans now send highly paid professionals to Olympic events.

In popular usage, amateur often means "second rate" while professional means "excellent." Both, though, are superficial understandings of the words. "Amateur" comes from a Latin word that means doing something "for love."

An amateur athlete is not necessarily second rate but pursues excellence for the love of the pursuit, not for monetary payback. A professional, on the other hand, receives a paycheck. That may imply the professional does the task better, but it's no guarantee. The best person at a task may be an amateur who is motivated by love. As the saying goes, "Professionals built the Titanic; amateurs built the ark." ...

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