In honor of Black History Month, Jesse Owen‘s dominance at the Berlin 1936 Olympics gets the nod this week. Owen’s iconic 1936 performance across the pond was more than just something for sports history, it was world history (with a twist).
In 1936, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany regime was in full effect and the Olympic games hosted in his home country was poised to be his ideal platform to showcase the “dominant” Aryan race. Owen’s was strongly encouraged to boycott the games from a plethora of sources, including NAACP Secretary Walter White, because the thought was that if he participated, it would promote the racist regime of the host country.
Jesse Owens, being the supreme athlete that he was, whipped it out and put it on the table from the time he got to Berlin until the time he left. As soon as he arrived to the Olympic stadium, he was ambushed by a flock of German girls. If that didn’t piss Hitler off, Owens laying the smack down on the track certainly did. He was able to bring home four gold medals. This was a first for an American track athlete and was a record that stood still for nearly half a century.
Owens stood atop the honor podium with a grip on his balls and a middle finger in the air toward racism collecting his gold medals from the 100m, 200m, 4x100m, and the long jump events.
Here’s where things get sticky.
The common thought was that Hitler completely snubbed Owens. Well, according to Owens, this was not true. Journalist Siegfried Mischner cited that Owens kept a photo in his wallet of him and Hitler shaking hands behind the podium. A BBC documentary featuring pilot Eric Brown went on record to confirm actually seeing the handshake take place. Owens himself was very vocal about his version of the events, but that somehow was never able to overcome the narrative. If we are getting down to brass tacks, Owens was snubbed by our President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“Hitler didn’t snub me — it was our president who snubbed me. He didn’t even send me a telegram.” -Jesse Owens
By precedent, athletes are invited to the White House and are privy to endorsements and other financial opportunities after championship campaigns. Owens, unfortunately, received none of those honors. Shortly after the games, Owens joined the Republican party and used his platform to try and set the record straight with just exactly what happened. In a Baltimore political rally, he stated, “Some people will tell you Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because, people said, he was too busy.” He followed that a week later in Kansas by saying, “Hitler didn’t snub me — it was our president who snubbed me. He didn’t even send me a telegram.”
Owens also made history at the games by becoming the first African-American with an sponsorship deal. In Olympic Village, he met with Adidas founder Adi Dassler and agreed to wear Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik shoes.
I will leave this in your hands to decide the bigger story: Owens proves Hitler wrong, or Owens returning home with no acknowledgement. Fuck racism, love each other.
-Jordan Kurtz AKA Kurtzy F is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery.