The Evil Olympics
By Scott Greene
It’s been 80 years since Jesse Owens won his memorable four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of Adolf Hitler who was trying to promote Aryan superiority. But, in those same Olympics, the U.S. track coach, with alleged pressure from the U.S. Olympic Committee, chose not to use Jewish-American sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller in the 4×100 meter relay so as to not offend Hitler.
As America’s triumphant track athletes head homeward from Berlin, olive-crowned and basking in a slew of new records, a diffident voice that is beginning to boom in a rising crescendo is asking: What price Olympic glory?
And the little group that for two years strenuously opposed American participation in the games at Berlin is beginning to find vindication.
They are the folks who refused to believe that the leopard would or could change his spots; who distrusted the Nazis when the Nazis said — as the American threat to withdraw from the games began to develop — that there would be no discrimination against non-Aryans in the Berlin Olympics.
To which echo is now flinging back and rasping “Oh yeah?”
Why, then, did Herr Hitler find it convenient to leave the royal viewing stand when the distinctly non-Aryan Jesse Owens emerged as the winner of the 200-meter title and was being led back in the cire direction of Hitler’s box by non-German officials?
Throughout the Olympiad, Hitler was busily receiving German winners in the weight events, Italian and Finnish champions, and saluting the Nordic Americans who happened to win. But there is no record that Herr Hitler even once took official recognition of the six championship efforts of American Negroes.
American Athletes Snubbed
America was thus collecting a daily insult in company with its daily titles. At least that was what we are constrained to believe from the dispatches from Berlin, which vied with the accounts of the competition in the telling of the snubbing of American athletes and the sour-grapes manner in which their victories were received.
The last full measure of insult to America was dealt in the Nazi press of August 5, the day following the United States team’s greatest performance of the Olympiad, when four gold medals fell to the Americans.
The rap at America was as officially Nazi as a Hitler suggestion. It appeared in the newspaper owned by Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitlers’s minister of public enlightenment and propaganda. And it was certainly enlightening as far as the Nazis’ promise to behave is concerned.
The August 5 article in Der Angriff, as relayed to America by the Associated Press, read:
“If America didn’t have her black auxiliaries, where would she be in the Olympic games?
“If the Americans hadn’t enlisted their black auxiliary forces, it would have been a poor lookout for them. For then the German, Lutz, would have won the broad jump; the Italian, Mario Lanzi the 800-meter run, and the Hollander, Martin Osendarp, the 100 meters. The world would then have described the Yankees a great Olympic disappointment.
“It must be plainly stated,” the newspaper continued, “that the Americans aren’t the athletic marvels we thought they were, despite Owens, Metcalfe, Woodruff and Johnson.”
Thus it was that the Nazis officially greeted the greatest display of athletic ability ever to mark an Olympiad, and if it weren’t for the pathetic betrayal of their pre-Olympic pledges by the Nazis there reaction would be no less than downright laughable.
Der Angriff Nazi Paper
At that there is a laugh for Americans in the very name of Dr. Goebbels’ official organ — Der Angriff. Especially for those Americans who know the vernacular of the turf, where owners strive to name their horses for both the sire and the dam, thus seeking a combination of the names of both.
And to them, Der Angriff sounds very much as if it were something by Angry out of Mastiff — in other words, a mad-dog newspaper.
But the Nazi press, which sought to deify Herr Hitler throughout the Olympic games even to a greater extent than it ordinarily salaams to the No. 1 Nazi, reached even greater heights on August 8, when, according to the Associated Press:
“Gloom pervaded the German morning papers today over the event in the stadium yesterday when, in the presence of Chancellor Hitler, Germany’s soccer team lost to Norway, 2-0.
“How could it ever happen?’ the sports press cries, bewildered. Germany’s hopes centered on winning the gold medal in this event. With the crack Uruguay team out of competition, they figured themselves the Olympics’ best bet. Norway, on the other hand, was figured as a minor contender.
“So sure was Germany of victory on the soccer field that Hitler for the first time failed to appear in the Olympic stadium proper. All German victors until now have told the German press in interviews that they think only of Der Fuehrer while competing, and outdo themselves when he’s there to watch them.”
The Nazi press’ indignant “How could it happen?” now apparently takes rank with the equally indignant American expression: “They can’t put you in jail.”
It was over the protests of a strident minority that the Old Guard of the American Olympic Committee steered the United States into the Olympics and refused to heed the pleas that Germany sought to use its assignment as Olympic host to further Nazi propaganda.
Opposition Was Choked Off
But the cat was let out of the bag almost immediately after the Old Guard railroaded through the national convention of the Amateur Athletic Union the vote to participate in Berlin after a parliamentary maneuver that choked off American opposition.
Evidence that Germany was already discriminating against Jewish and Catholic candidates for the Nazi Olympic teams and that Germany was already planning to convert the Olympiad into far-flung Nazi propaganda never found its way into that A.A.U. meeting as a result of the double-dealing of the Old Guard, who had promised hour’s debate before the question of American participation was put to a vote.
Without debate, then, the decision to compete at Berlin was imposed upon the objectors and the latter soon were to have their chance to shout “foul!”
Because immediately upon American acceptance of the Germany invitation to compete, there appeared throughout Europe huge posters portraying Herr Hitler in full Nazi regalia and full Nazi stature proclaiming:
“I summon the youth of the world to the Olympics.”
That, despite the fact that the Olympics are supposed to be an invitation affair with a natural anathema to the word “summons.: Thus the Nazis were not long in prostituting their role as Olympic hosts.
Was it a Neutral Meeting Ground?
And there were times during the progress of the Olympics when apparently there was great doubt whether the Olympiad was a neutral meeting ground for the athletic talent of the world in fiar competition or a legal holiday in celebration of the ascendancy of National Socialism.
The machine-gun practice of Hitler storm troopers in a field nearby rattled over the Olympic scene almost continually, according to the dispatches. And “Deutschland Uber Alles” took a distinct second place among the airs rendered in the Olympic Stadium as the strains of the “Horst Wessel Song,” the Nazies’ tribute to the No. 1 Nazi martyr, was proclaimed as the hit of the week.
Withe the notable exception of the American, English and French teams, the competition of most other nations violated the spirit of the Olympics by taking on a fierce political aspect. Germany’s teams were competing not for the honor of the sport as much as for Nazism. Italy’s forces appeared to be caring not the banner of fair play and may the best man win, but the flag of Fascism. If there were Communists among the competitors, then it’s a safe bet that they were running, jumping and lifting weights for the glory of Karl Marx.
More and more, the Olympics appear to be essentially a political undertaking as far as many nations are concerned, thus defeating the ideals in which the Olympiad was conceived. The Germans and Italians now lean heavily to the theory that sports is a patriotic duty to show off the superiority of their political systems above all others.
Olympic Ideals Lost
The Peruvian team so far lost sight of the Olympic ideals that it withdrew from the games after losing a protested soccer game to the Austrian team. And the people of Peru that night dignified the new political theory of the games by smashing windows in the German consulate at Lima, shouting angrily in downtown streets and tearing down an Olympic flag that was flying atop the building of a German company whose proprietor represented the German Olympic committee in Peru.
But neither has America come out of the Olympics with clean hands. Participation in the games by the United States had no relation to the broad scheme of American politics, but in the lesser vale of personal and petty politics the United States stands as an offender.
After enacting the promise from the Nazis that there would be no discrimination against Jewish athletes who sought to compete on German teams, the United States Olympic officials stand accused at least of practicing the same discrimination which they decried among the Nazis.
With an excellent opportunity to illustrate to the Nazis the complete lack of discrimination against non-Aryans on the United States team, the American track coach deliberately withheld from competition the only two Jewish lads who had been taken to Berlin on the United Stated squad.
Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller had been appointed during the workouts in Berlin as members of the United States’ 400-meter relay team. But on the appointed day of the race both were told they would not be able to compete.
American Coach Dismissed Two
Lawson Robertson, the American coach, declared that he was in great fear that the Germans or the Dutch would beat the American relay quartet in the 400. He needed his strongest team on the day. Thus, he dismissed the Jewish lads, Glickman and Stoller, and replaced them with one Foy Draper and Owens, who had already won three gold medals.
The American team won — easily, by 15 meters. Robertson’s fears had been unfounded. Yet the Jewish lads, with a chance to bring home a medal, were denied the chance to run.
There may have been a reason for Robertson’s decision to bench the Jewish boys. It was his duty to place his best team in competition But Robertson’s reasoning didn’t jell after the 1,600-meter relay. The United States team was beaten by 12 yards in that race and his two outstanding men for that — Archie Williams and Jimmy LuValle — weren’t entered in the race by Robertson.
It was only another sour note in an Olympics that had a lot of curdling aspects.