March 5, 2016
Earlier this week, Susan and I went to our local theater. The movie we saw was entitled Race. It was most enjoyable, but like all movies based on reality, the producers took a bit of poetic license.
I repeat, I enjoyed the movie. However, based on personal interviews, I hope to bring an insight to a marvelous incurrence in sports, Jesse Owens 4 Gold Medals. Over the years, future Olympians have individually won more medals… in the one-year they competed, Eric Haden won 5 in Speed Skating and Missy Franklin won 4 in swimming.
Matt Biondi won 8 over three Olympiads; Carl Lewis won 9 over 4. However, the all-time winner is Michael Phelps, with 6 in one and 18 overall, Mark Spitz won the most in one Olympiad, 7 in 1972. This remains the most ever in a single Olympiad.
Mark, being Jewish was under guard and urged to pull out because at the Munich Olympics that year, terrorists had invaded the Olympic Village and massacred 11 Israeli athletes.
Getting back to the movie “Race”, no one athlete had to overcome the overwhelming feeling of hate and bigotry that Jesse Owens, a Black American sprinter, faced in 1936…36 years earlier.
Adolph Hitler, the Chancellor of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany) staged the Berlin Olympics to showcase and prove to the world, the superiority of his pure –bred Aryan race… white supremacy. Jesse was to prove Hitler’s premise to be a fallacy.
The movie as far as it went, sugarcoated many of the main points. Let me attempt to set the record straight.
In the late fifties, early sixties, I was working for WJWTV in Cleveland. Ohio. This brought me into close contact with Jesse who on occasion was not only a guest on our shows, sometimes anchored our sports desk.
Jesse came out of East Cleveland. His speed in high school, had coaches from all over the country looking to give him a scholarship. He was dirt poor and he saw college athletics, like so many youngsters today, as his way out to a better life.
His arrival on the Ohio State Campus was met with disdain and nothing but taunts. His was the victim of many vicious acts. Once when returning to his dorm room, his pillow was hung over the door jam with a hangman’s rope and scrawled on the wall was “Go Home Nigger”.
He wanted to quit many times, but his soon-to-be wife plus pressure from the NAACP convinced him to stay in school. Later, because of the rising prejudice and bigotry in NAZI Germany, the same NAACP tried to convince him he should not go to the Olympics.
However, his girl friend Ruth who would become his wife in 1935, prevailed upon him to go. Until the day he died 45 years later, she still remained his constant supporter and soul mate. On the team, there was one other Black athlete, Ralph Metcalfe and two outstanding sprinters who happened to be Jewish. They, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, with Frank Wycoff and Foy Draper were scheduled to be the 4 x 100 meter United States Relay team.
Fate, however, intervened. In the movie, it shows where Avery Brundage, the head of the Olympic Team at the time in compliance with the wishes of Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, determined that the Jewish runners, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman should not run.
Hitler, at the time, had started his purge of Jews throughout Germany sending many as slaves to concentration camps and others to their deaths in the gas chambers. The picture portrays Brundage as a man who reluctantly replaced Stoller and Glickman on the relay team with Metcalfe and Owens.
In my conversations with Glickman and Owens, nothing could be further from the truth. Brundage, in fact who himself had been a great amateur athlete, (in 1912, he competed on the same team as Jim Thorpe, always finishing second), was appalled that on his team there were Jews and Blacks, both of whom he considered inferior.
On the ship going over to Germany, they were made to feel inferior. So when it was suggested, the Jews should not run, he readily acquiesced.
However, according to Marty Glickman, he and Stoller always felt that Brundage himself might have suggested to the Fuhrer that the Jews should not run.
I met Marty when I was working for the Music Corporation of America and just as I had a few conversations with Jesse back in Cleveland, I spent a great deal of time with Marty in NYC.
Marty, was already a successful broadcaster. He had been the voice of the New York Knicks and was doing sports on all three networks. We worked together in the early sixties. At the time he was tutoring young announcers. In the early days of HBO, it was Marty who established the way their announcers would sound.
Both he and Jesse remained fast friends until Jesse’s passing. Marty could not forget that when Avery Brundage told Jesse and Ralph that they would be running the 4 x 100, they refused. They were not interested in politics, they were only interested in the fact their fellow athletes who had trained for years for this one opportunity were to be denied.
The movie touches on it slightly that both Ralph and Jesse would not run the “Race”, unless Marty and Sam gave them their blessing. What it doesn’t show is that even though he didn’t like Blacks, he threatened the two of them that if they didn’t race he would see to it that they were stripped of any medals they had won, or possibly might win.
Ralph and Jesse refused!… all the time knowing what the consequences might be.
Marty and Sam did not want their friends to suffer and pleaded with them to run.
As fate would have it, the 4x 100 was Jesse’s fourth Gold Medal. After the race was over, Hitler left the stadium before he would shake Jesse’s hand. Although he did shake after Jesse’s first victory. The movie does not show this.
Ironically, years later I was to find out that Marty was my friend David Friedland’s cousin… and I shared with David, a 2013 HBO disc entitled “Glickman.” It wan HBO Special and I believe it can still be sen on Netflix.
Survivors of the Holocaust have a phrase “Never again”. Today, unfortunately, as the World War II generation leaves us, memories fade. The Horrors that were once so vivid, to many of today’s young adults and children is a myth.
We must never forget!