The AAU Sullivan Award was established in 1930 to honor James E. Sullivan, a founder and past president of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Recognized as a pioneer in the amateur sports movement, Sullivan is credited with developing the current concept of the playground and organized recreation of the present day. Accordingly, he and others opened the first public playground and gymnasium in New York City in 1906.
Born in New York City, Sullivan was a founder of the Public School Athletic League of New York, which now serves as a forerunner for other cities in this country. He also was one of the organizers of the Outdoor Recreation League and served as its second president. His administrative and leadership qualities were tested outside of athletics when he served as a member of the New York Board of Education from 1908-1912.
Sullivan served as president of the Metropolitan Association of the AAU (New York) and later served as president of the New Jersey Athletic Club. Sullivan served as the Commissioner of Athletics for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition and three subsequent expositions in Jamestown, Va., Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, California.
In recognition of his services as director of the 1904 Olympic Games, Sullivan was presented the Olympic medal by the International Olympic Committee, the only American other than President McKinley to be so honored at the time. He also served as the Commissioner of the Olympic Games in Athens, London, and Stockholm. For his service to amateur athletics at the Olympiads, Sullivan received the decoration of the Golden Cross of Knights of the Royal Order of the Savior from King George of Greece, Knight Royal Order of Wasa from King Gustave of Sweden and Olympic decoration of the Golden Eagle from the Imperial German Olympic Commission.