I thought of Marty Glickman recently, when the United States Olympic Committee handed out its annual Douglas MacArthur Award. And as the 2016 Summer Games in Rio are attracting a billion viewers around the world, that medal shone in my memory. For this is the 80th anniversary of the Olympic Games that Marty, a Jew from Brooklyn, was not allowed to compete in.
The memory is especially poignant since this year, for the first time, the Olympic movement is acknowledging the Israeli athletes who were murdered by terrorists at the 1972 Games in Germany.
Most of us knew Marty as a terrific sports broadcaster, a New York voice—innovative in the way he described Knicks’ basketball, and also the play-by-play announcer of the Giants and then the Jets.
There are many sidelights and little-known aspects to one of the most intriguing and lingering stories involving Jews and sports in the 20th Century: What happened to Marty and his lone Jewish teammate, Sam Stoller, at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin—and the aftermath.
When I’d speak to the usually low-keyed Marty about the Olympics, his eyes narrowed—the only times I ever saw him short-tempered.
The bare facts: On the morning of the final trial heat for the 400-meter relay, Glickman and Stoller—the only Jews on the 66-member United States Olympic track team—were removed and replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe.
At the time it was somewhat of a big deal—Glickman claiming the move was “political,” and Stoller vowing never to run track again.
The head of the United States Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, made the move to placate Hitler and Nazism.
The coaches claimed that the Germans were going to compete with sprinters they had kept hidden from public events, and Owens and Metcalfe were so good the U.S. would need their fastest runners. Of course, that made no sense. “You can’t hide world-class athletes,” Marty was to say.
When I’d speak to the usually low-keyed Marty about the Olympics, his eyes narrowed—the only times I ever saw him short-tempered. But then a strange thing happened. In 1998, more than 60 years after the controversy, the United States Olympic Committee honored Marty. It was a moment that has been lost, even though it was fewer than 20 years ago.
This is what happened: In emotional ceremonies at the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, in Commack, L.I., the president of the U.S.O.C., William J. Hybl, presented the MacArthur medal to Marty.
Why General Douglas MacArthur, who was more noted as the great soldier than for any sports accomplishment? MacArthur had been the head of the United States Olympic operation for two years in the 1920s.
Seventy years later, Hybl told me the U.S.O.C. was creating the MacArthur Award “for circumstances which require recognition by the U.S.O.C. We are not] going to be afraid to tackle things, to have wrongs corrected.”
So I asked Hybl if he believed that there actually was anti-Semitism by United States Olympic officials when Marty had been booted off the team all those years earlier? “I was a prosecutor,” Hybl said, answering the question obliquely. “I’m used to looking at evidence. The evidence was there.”
But if the U.S.O.C. was looking to “have wrongs corrected,” it seemed to have started and stopped with Marty. For not one subsequent award has gone to anyone vaguely considered overlooked by the Olympic movement. All subsequent awards have gone to people who have played prominent roles and who have been honored previously in various ways. They include Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger.
All these years later, it is obvious that the award to Marty was specifically an apology for the American Olympic committee’s anti-Semitism. Was it coincidence that a year after Glickman and Stoller were replaced, Brundage’s construction company was given the contract by the German government to build its embassy in Washington?
Marty was 80 years old when he received the MacArthur award, and had tears in his eyes when he told me that Owens had said to Brundage, “Let them run.” But no one listened.
Then Marty told me something I hadn’t known, nor had most people—that after the games ended, he went on a short exhibition barnstorming tour in Europe, and there was a relay race in which he and Stoller were matched against Owens and Metcalfe.
“We beat them,” said Marty. “But it was never official.”
Marty died 15 years ago in 2001, the last of all those involved. In 2013, his alma mater, Syracuse University, created a Marty Glickman Award at its Newhouse School.
“A lot of people don’t know his legacy. A lot of sports broadcasting started with Marty,” explained Dean Lorraine Branham of the Newhouse School.
And so Marty finally got his medal—and, posthumously, gives one out annually as well.