Story of the Week
Under the circumstances that presently prevail in our country, I can think of no sports subject that I’d rather feature in my column this week than Jesse Owens.
James Cleveland Owens was born in Danville, Alabama in 1913, the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves. After his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he became known as "Jesse."
Owens competed as a runner while at Ohio State University. On one day, May 25, 1935, during a Big Ten meet at the University of Michigan, Owens equaled the world record for the 100-yard dash, and set new world records for the 220-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles, and the running broad jump. He won every collegiate track event in which he ever competed.
The 1936 Olympic games were held in Berlin. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler had put on a massive media propoganda campaign claiming that Aryan supremacy would win the games for the Nordic countries. Owens, a black man, won gold medals for the United States in four track and field events, beating several world records and embarrassing the Nazis and Hitler.
When two American blacks placed first and second in the 100-meter dash, Hitler couldn’t take it. Rather than shake hands with Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, the world’s fastest runners, Hitler angrily stormed out of the stadium in Berlin. It was our country’s first, but certainly not our last, victory over Adolf Hitler.
Despite his triumphs in the 1936 Olympics, Owens returned home to an America that still did not treat blacks as equal. He held a variety of jobs to support his family. A position as playground director in Cleveland inspired the track star to work with underprivileged children for the rest of his life.
He moved to Chicago and became sports specialist to the Illinois State Youth Commission. In 1955, he became America’s formal Ambassador of Sports. In 1956, President Eisenhower named Owens his personal United States representative to the Olympics in Australia. Owens received our country’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, in 1976. He died in 1980.
In 1990, President Bush presented Owens’ widow with a Congressional Gold Medal on her husband’s behalf. But the most telling tribute to the impact of this great American may be the Berlin street named in his honor.
Jesse Owens is one of many American heros, past and present.
Last Week’s Trivia
What player holds the NFL single-season record for points scored? Paul Hornung rolled up an amazing 176 points in 1960 as both running back and place-kicker of the Packers. That record is even more amazing when you consider the fact that the season in those days was only 12 games. Fantasy football anyone?
Hornung is also the only player ever to win the Heisman Trophy while playing on a losing team. He won the Heisman in 1956; Notre Dame was 2-8.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who is the only player to be named MVP of both the ABA and the NBA? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.