Friday, January 5, 2001
Back to Berlin
By Dave Klein
Special to ESPN.com
Although Marty Glickman didn't get to feel the track at Berlin Stadium crunch and give under his feet on the way to a gold medal in the 4x100 relay in 1936, he did it thousands of times in his mind.
Fifty-eight years later, Marty Glickman returned to the stadium where political circumstances had denied him the chance at gold. It was Aug. 11, 1994, and in two days' time the New York Giants were going to play a meaningless preseason game against the San Diego Chargers in Berlin, of all places.
It was part of what the NFL used to call the "American Bowl," a series of games held in far-flung locales to introduce football, not soccer, to the rest of the world.
When the team found out it had been chosen to play there, owner Wellington Mara, who is far more even than the stately old gentleman everyone thinks he is, invited Marty Glickman to accompany the team to Germany. It was symbolic, of course, and it was fitting and proper.
It was also the first time Glickman would step foot on German soil since the summer of 1936, which was the experience that defined not only the rest of his life but the lives of so many who never even met him.
Glickman was a world-class sprinter from the streets of New York City. He attended Syracuse University and played football as well as running track, but as he once said: "As a football player, I was a pretty fair sprinter." Pretty fair? Sure. He made the 1936 United States Olympic team.
So, too, did a black man named Jesse Owens, but that's part of the story about to unfold.
You might remember - and if you don't, your history books will - that 1936 was not a particularly good time to be in Berlin. A madman named Adolph Hitler was in charge, and he was slowly, inexorably, relentlessly bringing his country to world war. He had captured and hypnotized and seduced the nation, preying on nationalism and resentment at losing World War I and a particularly virulent brand of hate called anti-Semitism.
He had turned the nation into a military fortress. He had established the idea of his "Master race," those pure-blooded, blond Aryans who would stride mightily into the world and make everything right for Germany again. In his sick, twisted and malevolent living nightmare, he blamed the Jews for everything that had ever gone wrong for Germany.
And the blacks, who he called, along with the Jews, "untermenchen," of sub-human species.
So now comes the 1936 Olympic Games, with thousands of the "Hitler Youth" marching across the field in the opening ceremonies, carrying the Nazi swastika emblem on flags and on banners raised high and on their clothing. A gigantic flag bearing that hateful symbol was hanging from the walls of the stadium. One man who was there, the late sportswriter Jesse Abramson, remembered it this way: "They marched out their hate and let the whole world see what was going to come next. We got chills."
He meant the Jews, the obvious targets for Hitler's insanity.
The Games began, and it was not the victory the little man expected. It was, instead, a disaster. Jesse Owens, son of a sharecropper, won four gold medals, embarrassing Herr Hitler beyond description and shattering beyond imagination the myth of Aryan supremacy.
From his private box overlooking the stadium, Hitler endured three times the playing of the United States national anthem as Owens stood on the highest platform to receive his gold medal. The fourth time, in an act of terminal insult, he stood and turned his back to the proceedings.
Marty Glickman was there.
And the next morning, in the locker room where the athletes dressed, a man named Avery Brundage, who was Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, with the assistant men's track coach, Dean Cromwell, in tow, approached Glickman. He told him - in heart-breaking, world-stopping language - that he would not run that day in the 4x100 relays.
Why? "Because you are Jewish," the gutless Brundage said, "and because we have already embarrassed our Nazi host with Jesse Owens winning all those medals." Brundage, it should be noted, was the man 36 years later - in the Olympic Games held once again in Germany in 1972 - who fought for the continuation of the games after the murder of the 11 Israeli athletes, saying that, "a minor distraction should not affect the entire Olympics."
Brundage was a member of America First, an isolationist political movement that attracted - and indeed was created by - American Nazi sympathizers. So was Cromwell. So, too, your history books will tell you, was Charles Lindbergh.
So they ran the 4x100, but Marty Glickman did not.
Life went on. He became the best sports announcer in the history of sports announcing. He was a man who taught hundreds and was imitated by thousands. But, like Ernest Hemingway, no one could perfectly match the simple, classic approach. His voice became part of the fabric of life for hundreds of thousands around the New York metropolitan area. Marty did play-by-play for the Knicks, the Giants and, for a time, the Jets. He was famous for his college basketball work, those doubleheaders every Thursday night in the old Madison Square Garden. He was, in a real and valid sense, an American icon.
And now, having set the stage, we return to Berlin.
We were at the stadium, watching the two teams practice. I had known Marty for years and when I ran into him on the field he asked if I would accompany him somewhere.
Of course I would.
First we went up flights of rickety old stairs, to the private box where the impotent little madman had stood and turned his back on Owens. I must admit, being in the presence of evil incarnate was chilling. It was a blend of cowardice and hatred and that deadly, poisonous mentality that nearly destroyed an entire race.
Then we walked the track, still there as it was in 1936. Marty walked it with a tear in his eye, silent and introspective. I was just along for the walk. I had no way of understanding what was burning and boiling inside him.
He was older now. He walked that track with an old man's legs, not with a world-class athlete's body. But his mind soared, fleeing back to that awful, terrible day when he was told he could not fulfill his life's ambition because he was Jewish, because World War II was about to break out and he was a member of the culture the mindless little man feared so much he tried to eradicate it.
We walked in silence, Marty alone with his thoughts and I just honored to be allowed to serve as his silent companion.
Then, suddenly, he turned.
"Right here," he said in that distinctive voice. "Right here is where I would have made my move, where I would have cut to the front. Right here is where I would have put the field in my pocket."
He had been walking, but in his mind he had been running that race, finally, somehow, fulfilling that missing piece of his life.
And he would ever talk about it again. He had learned long before that defining moment that you can live with emotional pain, if you bear it with dignity.
Marty Glickman died last week. He was 83 and complications from a cardiac condition finally took his life. But Hitler took a part of it back in 1936, and so did Avery Brundage and the rest of the world that had gone mad.
Marty survived, and he gave something to each one of us.
Rest easy, old friend.