Story of the Week
THE 1936 OLYMPICS IN BERLIN
Chancellor Adolf Hitler had sold the Nazi German people on the fact that they were the superior race. His timing was perfect. The economy in Germany was bleak in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Hitler came into power in 1933, two years after Berlin was awarded these Olympics, because of his dynamic charisma and his promises to Germany that he would "fix" things. He somehow united Germany behind a cause that tragically destroyed millions of human beings, and has left its mark on society to this day. I personally lost one of my best friends to an American Nazi’s bigotry-bullet in 1976, so I speak from bitter experience.
Adolf Hitler despised the United States and any and all minority groups; the latter were not part of his great Aryan race. Concentration camps for Jews were already in place by 1936, and still Berlin was permitted to host those games. Anti-Jew posters were prominent in the stadium. The 1936 Olympics were so precious to the free world as the U.S. humbled Hitler’s Nazi German entry on his very own soil, and embarrassed him to the point that he turned his back on the event, and stormed out of the stadium.
And why? That question can best be answered in two words, Jesse Owens. Owens, a black man, did not just sneak up on the track and field world in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. On May 25, 1935, at the collegiate Big Ten Championships, he had the greatest single day in that sport’s history, breaking three world records and tying another, not just in one day, but in less than one hour.
The stands on August 3, 1936 were teeming with Nazi supporters in Hitler’s pre-war Germany. To them, Jesse Owens threatened their ideas of Aryan supremacy. None of this phased the determined Owens. He won his first event, the 100-meter dash.
Owens’ next event was the long jump. He won his second gold medal on his final jump. The first person to greet Owens after the event was long jumper, Lutz Lang. This act of sportsmanship did not ingratiate him to Hitler; Lang represented Germany.
On the next day of competition, Owens won his third gold medal and set another Olympic record, winning the 200-meter dash. He received his fourth and final gold medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay; his teammates were Ralph Metcalfe, Foy Draper, and Frank Wykoff.
There is a sad asterisk to the 4 x 100-meter relay. Two U.S. Jews, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were benched by the chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler's regime, and by the assistant U.S. track coach, Dean Cromwell, himself as anti-semetic as Brundage. Glickman and Stoller were not permitted to participate in the event because Brundage and Cromwell wanted to spare Adolf Hitler the embarrassment of the sight of two American Jews on the podium. For the record, Jesse Owens himself protested the decision, but to deaf ears.
Can you believe it?! Well, believe it! It happened just that way. All that training and preparation for nothing. As you would expect, Glickman and Stoller, both great athletes, were devastated. (And what did President Franklin Roosevelt do about this obvious display of anti-semetism? After all, he was the President of our country; he was #1 in command. He could not have cared less. And he would show it in May, 1939 when he would not permit the passenger ship St. Louis, with its 937 Jews fleeing the Nazis, to dock in the U.S; he turned that ship away from U.S. shores personally, thus sending most of those passengers to their death at the hands of the Nazis. Am I charging Franklin Roosevelt with being anti-semetic? The answer is an emphatic yes! And the irony here is the tremendous Jewish fan base he enjoyed out of sheer and total ignorance and stupidity.)
Upon his return to the U.S. following the Olympics, Jesse Owens was given a hero’s welcome, but the celebration was soured by the reality of segregation. He was honored with a party at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, but was made to ride in the hotel’s freight elevator. To earn a living, Owens appeared and ran in exhibition races, including some with dogs and horses as competitors. This indignity, perpetrated upon a U.S. hero and legend in his own country, is incomprehensible to me.
In 1950, Owens was given his due when an A-P poll named him the greatest track and field star of the first half of the 20th. century. In 1990, President George Bush posthumously awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was a triumph for all humanity.
Last Week’s Trivia
What was unusual about New England’s win in Super Bowl XXXVIII? The Pats became only the fourth betting favorite in Super Bowl history to win but not cover the point spread.
Trivia Question of the Week
How did the Lakers get Magic Johnson? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.