We've had hundreds of television newscasts, editorials, stories and focus on the controversy of athletes kneeling/ holding arms after Trump’s latest racist, white supremacist tweets this last month. Steve Kerr, 3 time NBA Champion with the Chicago Bulls, and currently head coach of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, said so eloquently:
"How about the irony of, ‘Free speech is fine if you’re a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans, but free speech is not allowed to kneel in protest?... No matter how many times a football player says, ‘I honor our military, but I’m protesting police brutality and racial inequality,’ it doesn’t matter. Nationalists are saying, ‘You’re disrespecting our flag.’ Well, you know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism. And one’s way worse than the other.” (Rawstory, 2017).
As you and I have read multiple news stories and watched each television broadcast, my mind immediately goes to Avery Brundage (1887-1975), who was the President of the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1936, and ultimately, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1952 – 1972.
Brundage fought to have the U.S. participate in Nazi-Germany’s hosting of the 1936 Olympics, regardless of the movement by high-level American diplomats to boycott Hitler and his Nuremberg laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship.
It is well known: Brundage argued, “politics has no place in sport.” He and the Assistant U.S. Track Coach, Dean Cromwell, were members of “American First,” a political movement that attracted American Nazi sympathizers.
Yet, in these 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Jesse Owens, a Black American, won 4 gold medals in track that year, to the embarrassment of Brundage and Hitler’s “Aryan race supremacy” ideology. Included, as another Black American to medal in track, was Ralph Metcalf (who went on to become a Congressman from Illinois).
Following this "embarassing" display of non-Aryan ability, Brundage then removed two American Jewish sprinters from the 400 relay, a day before the race was scheduled. He benched Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, who later reported that this was ‘the most humiliating episode in my life.’ (Jewish Virtual Library.org).
Metcalf and Owens replaced the two, even after arguing that Glickman and Stoller should be in the 400, since Metcalf and Owens had not practiced this race. Brundage refused their requests.
Fast forward to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. By now, Brundage had been elected in 1952 as the President of the IOC.
I was 18 years old, and watched Two Black Americans, Tommy Smith and Juan Carlos, place first and third in the 200 meter dash. I was proud.
As the U.S. anthem was played, both athletes raised their fists with black gloves, as a protest to racism and in support of the U.S. civil rights movement. Given my own politics during those tumultuous years, including my marching on campus for the civil rights movement, I completely understood and applauded the actions of these two great athletes.
By the next day, Brundage stripped the medals from Smith and Carlos, and ordered them out of Mexico City. This entire incident has been well publicized, with many people divided back in the states. I, for one, was thoroughly disgusted at Brundage’s ruling.
Watched closely afterward, were the actions of sprinters Lee Evans, Larry Jones, and Ron Freeman, winning the 400 meter event. They wore black berets on the medal stand. And Ralph Boston, who medaled third in the high jump, went barefoot. Bob Beamon placed first. In support of his fellow athletes and the various protests in the U.S., he rolled up his pants on the medal stand to display his black socks.
Fast forward to the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, the last year of Brundage’s IOC Presidency. Terrorists, who had infiltrated the athletes’ dormitories, murdered eleven Israeli athletes. After the memorial service, controversy over continuing the games was squelched by Brundage, again maintaining that politics had no place in sports.
“His decision to continue the…(1972…) games…and his actions in 1936 and 1972…(were)…seen as evidence of (clear) anti-Semitism’ (Jewish Virtual Library.org).
Trump is another Brundage: their ideology of “America First” includes Neo-Nazi, racist attacks and actions, a la Charlottesville, VA and Trump’s tweet of the white supremacist rally of having “…very fine people…” As all of us know, going after Stephen Curry of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, who refuses to go the White House, while completely supported by the entire team and franchise, due to Trump’s actions and values, was the tipping point for the last four days of a media blitz vs. Trump.
We see Odell Beckham Jr., of the New York Giants, raise his fist in the end zone. We see hundreds of NFL players either kneeling during the anthem, or remaining in the club houses till the game is set to begin. And we see one white baseball player, rookie Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland A's, kneeling during the anthem.
Thank you Colin Kapernick, last year, for exhibiting your first amendment rights and leading your opposition to racism in America through non-violent protest. Thank you for following in the footsteps of those athletes noted above in 1936, 1968, and to those giving their lives in 1972.
If only Brundage could tweet during his reign, I’d surmise his 140 letters would be indistinguishable from Trump’s. Certainly, their actions are. And as we've seen so eloquently, politics DO have a place in sports.