For a moment, it all seemed like a dream. Young Marty Glickman, an eighteen year old from Brooklyn, was at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, ready to run the 4 by 100 relay, in hopes of winning gold. It was early in Hitler’s dictatorship, but Jews had already been persecuted for several years. As a Jewish American athlete, proud of his heritage, and proud to represent his country, this was Marty’s opportunity to help expose Hitler’s mad theories about Aryan supremacy—just as Jesse Owens, his African-American teammate, had humiliated the Nazis by excelling in his events.
The morning of the Olympic trials, as Marty prepared to help secure a spot for his relay team in the finals, he and his teammates were called together by Lawson Robertson and Dean Cromwell, the coach and assistant coach of the US team, respectively. In a grim tone, Robertson announced that he had been informed that the Germans were hiding their “best sprinters” for the relay event, to upset the heavily favored Americans. Therefore, Marty and Sam Stoller (Glickman’s Jewish teammate) would be replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, to give the US their best chance. Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff, whom Cromwell had coached at USC, would remain on the revised squad.
The decision never made any sense. Glickman and Stoller were at least as fast, if not faster, than Draper and Wykoff; and Glickman and Stoller had been specially trained in the 400 relay and its baton pass, which the otherwise exceptional Owens and Metcalfe had not. Shocked and angered, Marty spoke up: “Coach, there’s no reason to believe the Germans are any kind of threat to the relay.” The best German sprinter, Erich Borchmeyer, had finished a poor fifth in the 100 meter final. He was the best Germany had, and any of the American sprinters could defeat him.
Jesse Owens also spoke. “Coach, let Marty and Sam run, they deserve it. I’ve already won three gold medals. . . . They haven’t had the chance to run. Let them run. They deserve it.” But Dean Cromwell pointed his finger at the great Olympian and shouted him down: “You’ll do as you’re told!”
The race went on, without Glickman and Stoller participating, and the Americans, as expected, won. The Germans finished a distant third. Marty was forced to watch the relay from the stands, his heart breaking, as the second leg was run, thinking, “That oughta be me out there, that oughta be me!” Stoller, described by Glickman as “shattered” by the decision, wrote in his diary, “This is the one day in my life that I’ll remember to my dying day.”
At the time, Marty thought he and Stoller were dropped simply because of track politics—because Cromwell favored his USC runners over them. But as time passed, he learned the reason may have been far darker. Avery Brundage, the head of the American Olympic Committee, had been a fellow traveler of the “New Germany,” and had fought all calls to move or boycott the Berlin games, even amidst Hitler’s brutalities. “Frankly, I don’t think we have any business to meddle in the question,” he said of Nazi anti-Semitism. As criticism mounted, he blamed “Jewish and Communist propaganda,” but the leading opponent of the Berlin games was Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, an Irish Catholic, who stood in solidarity with his Jewish brethren, and was anything but a Communist.
Brundage denied any wrongdoing. In his official report of the 1936 Olympics, he wrote: “An erroneous report was circulated that two athletes had been dropped from the American relay team because of their religion. This report was absurd. The two athletes were taken only as substitutes.”
Two years after the Berlin games, however, when the Nazis were building the German embassy in Washington D.C., they awarded the construction contract to Avery Brundage; and Brundage later became a leader of the America First Committee, which contained many sympathizers for Hitler’s Germany. Given Brundage’s hands-on supervision of all aspects of the Olympics, many believe he influenced the coaches to rearrange the relay team, and at least one may have been predisposed to agree (Cromwell became an American Firster, too). Brundage also knew that Hitler, already stung by Owen’s presence on the gold medal stand, would be even more outraged if two Jews mounted it, over the vanquished Germans. Cleverly, Brundage pointed to the American victory as vindication of the coaching decision to drop Glickman and Stoller.
But Wykoff told an interviewer, “Down in my heart, I think it was done the way it was because of the Jewish thing.” Metcalfe shared that opinion: “I’m convinced it was the Jewish thing that was behind it. Glickman and Stoller should have run.”
Throughout his life, Brundage dismissed every allegation of foul play. “The Berlin Games were the finest in modern history. I will accept no dispute over that fact.” But the facts speak for themselves. “In the entire history of the modern Olympic games,” Glickman later said, “no fit American track and field performer has ever not competed in the Olympic games, except for Sam Stoller and me—the only two Jews on the 1936 team.”
That decision could have crushed and haunted Marty Glickman for the rest of his life, and there is some evidence that it did just that to Stoller, who received the shocking news on his twenty-first birthday.
How Marty dealt with that tragedy—and ultimately overcame it—is the subject of James Freedman’s acclaimed new documentary, Glickman, now airing on HBO. The documentary captures the intensity of the 1936 Olympics, but does so in the context of exploring Glickman’s entire life—making the injustice all the more poignant.
Marty was the son of Romanian immigrants, who was always known as the “fastest kid on the block”—a talent he parlayed into success during the height of the Depression. A brilliant all-around athlete, he starred at Brooklyn’s Madison High, and caught the eye of many athletic directors, and Olympic scouts. One reason he was able to rebound from the terrible Olympic blow was because, at 18, he had so much competition ahead of him: he would go on to shine in more track meets, and became an All-American football player at Syracuse University. (The older and less fortunate Stoller, in contrast, soon left college after the Olympics).
After a tour with the Marines, Glickman became a standout sports announcer. One of the first athletes to become a broadcaster, Glickman spent fifty years in the booth, becoming the voice of the Knicks, Giants, and Jets—while also covering baseball, horseracing, and even marble tournaments.
He was the first radio announcer to paint a picture of the basketball court for listeners, creating a sports terminology that is now familiar: the key, the lane, the midcourt stripe, the elbow, the top of the circle. . . . Glickman also invented the single greatest term ever for basketball junkies—“Swish!”—describing the perfect shot.
But Marty was a perfectionist, and studied each of his early broadcasts, to see if he could catch a mistake and improve upon his profession. The style and inflection of his gravelly voice was addictive, and—if he wasn’t on TV—many would watch his games by turning down the television volume, and listening to Glickman on radio.
In one memorable football game—a 1967 classic between the Giants and Steelers—the Giants were trailing late, until Fran Tarkenton, the Giants quarterback, engineered a trick play catapulting the Giants to an improbable victory. Those who heard the broadcast still remember Glickman’s thrilling call:
“The handoff goes to Koy, a double reverse—a triple reverse!—it goes back to Tarkenton finally . . . Tarkenton throws to Morrison . . . Morrison has got the ball . . . he is down to the ten, the five . . . TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN! A triple reverse on a pass by Tarkenton! WOW! That’s the kind of a play you make up on the streets or in a playground or your backyard. The kids make’ em up! A triple reverse. WOW.”
As one fan comments in the documentary, Marty Glickman was so good “you got chills” just hearing him report the weather.
Freedman is a first-time filmmaker, but his documentary is as flawless and riveting as one produced by a master craftsman.
It is a measure of the high esteem in which Glickman is held that a virtual Who’s Who of sports figures appears in Freedman’s documentary for HBO: legendary athletes like Jim Brown, Frank Gifford, Oscar Roberston, and Bill Bradley; leading announcers Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Len Berman and Mike Breen—Glickman protégés all.
It was hard to reach them all at first, Freedman told me, but doors quickly opened when he mentioned the subject matter: “Here I was a first-time filmmaker, calling them cold. But as soon as they heard Marty Glickman’s name, they said to me, ‘Just tell me the time and the place and I’ll be there to tape it.’”
When Martin Scorsese was shown the film, he was so impressed that he agreed to help Freedman get it on HBO, where it has received rave reviews.
Glickman has its roots in the days when Freedman, as a seventeen year-old, became Glickman’s producer for his sports radio show on WNEW—replacing his older brother, who had been called away to serve in the reserves. “What I remember best,” recalls Freedman now, “is that Marty never talked down to me, never made me feel like a high school student, but instead treated me as an adult—as a pro—and the experience resonated: to this day, I have a professional confidence that I never would have obtained without him.”
Glickman did the same for many others, finding time in his busy schedule to teach, call high school games, and visit inner city youths, instructing them about the virtues of sports. He also became an eloquent spokesman against prejudice, and gave testimony to the United States Holocaust Museum.
The documentary features two especially memorable moments, both very personal. The first is when Marty Glickman recounts how he made eye contact with a Japanese athlete in his running days. Because of the language barrier, they didn’t speak with each other, but both conveyed a mutual respect before and after the race. Later, when he heard that his Japanese competitor had died in the War, Marty—then serving as a marine in the war against Japan—cried. “Because that’s what sports does,” says Glickman. It unites people, overcomes division, and serves as a model for excellence which everyone can pursue in all phases of their lives.
The second is when Marty is about to retire, and is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love he received from his audience. For once, Marty’s humility broke down—though just a little—when he admitted that he finally recognized that “there are some Marty Glickman fans, too.”
Yes there are. And after people watch this inspiring documentary, of a great American who conquered adversity, there will be many more.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.