In the days leading up to the 4×100 meters relay race in the Berlin Olympic Stadium, ticketed as a signature event within the games and scheduled for the final day of competition, Marty Glickman strolled confidently among competitors from more than 50 nations from all over the world and made friends easily. Thinking back to the opening ceremonies, a week or so earlier, he was gratified to wear his country’s colors and proud that he, like all American athletes, did not raise his hand to Hitler in the Olympic salute that awfully resembled how the Germans paid tribute to their leader. The most the U.S. contingent would do was turn “eyes right” as they passed the Fuehrer’s box in the grandstands. Perhaps it was then, when they espied Hitler, that the joking about him looking like Charlie Chaplin began in their midst. As an American patriot, Glickman was also pleased how his team’s flag carrier did not dip Old Glory to a foreign potentate as other countries did.
But right then and there, his only concerns were athletic and he was sure he could handle them. As his teammates and he prepared assiduously for their moment on the track, they worked hard to master the crucial baton-passing technique to ensure a smooth handoff at the end of every stage of the race. If Glickman had any nightmares, they would be the frightening vision of dropping the cylinder, which would have disqualified his foursome. He had no prescience of the real-life horror that awaited him a day before the race in a small room within the Olympic Village. There he and Sam Stoller would be set apart from all other U.S. athletes. They were sidelined while fellow trackmen competed.
All had thus gone blissfully well for Glickman until what he would call “the meeting” took place on Aug. 8, 1936. As Glickman repeatedly told the story of his and Sam Stoller’s exclusion from the competition, the trouble began when the track coaches, Dean Cromwell and his assistant Lawson Robertson, spoke about a worrisome but unconfirmed report that “the Germans were hiding their best sprinters saving them for the 400-meter relay to upset the heavily favored American team.” To stop the Germans in their tracks, they determined that Stoller and Glickman were to be replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who would join Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff, two of Cromwell’s protégés from the University of Southern California, on the squad. At that point Glickman had to have sadly recalled that if Cromwell had not interceded in favor of his guys back at the Randalls Island Olympic qualifying meet—and through effective force of influence had not pushed him out of the individual 100-meter competition in Berlin—Cromwell’s fears would have been moot. In his darkest moments, Glickman might have wondered what the coaches would have done in Berlin if he had just run a few steps faster in New York and whether that early intercession had been preplanned for the moment at hand.
Reacting to this unexpected challenge, Glickman broke the “stunned silence in the room” and brashly rebutted the coach: “There’d be no reason to believe the Germans are any kind of threat.” It was clear to Glickman, and probably to all his teammates, that their opponents had no such hidden world-class runners. In addition, the previously designated foursome had been practicing as a team for 10 days. Putting in last-minute substitutes who might fumble the stick was just bad strategy. And if indeed there was a real threat in the offing, while nobody could outrun Owens, the fact was that in practices Glickman and Stoller outpaced Draper and Wykoff. So much for sending the best four men to the track.
Rising to support his teammates, Owens told the coaches, “Let Marty and Sam run, they deserve it. I’ve already won three gold medals. I’m tired. They haven’t had the chance to run. Let them run.” Cromwell shut down Owens’ position immediately and curtly. Pointing a finger at Owens, he declared, “You will do as you are told.” Owens would say no more, nor would his fellow teammates, Black or white, step up to support the Jewish runners.
Still unwilling to accept this decision, Glickman almost had the last word. “Coach, you know,” he said, “Sam and I are the only two Jews on the track team, there’s bound to be a lot of criticism back home.” It remained for Cromwell to end the unequal conversation between coaches and performers with “we’ll take our chances.” Cromwell’s intuition that the incident would blow over proved to be largely correct.
“Angry and confused, not able to digest it all” and deeply frustrated, Glickman, when the substitute racers were called to the starting line without him and Stoller, sat alone in the athletes’ reserve section of the grandstands, located only a hundred feet away from the chancellor’s box, where Hitler sat with his entourage. As Glickman witnessed the American team win the race in world-record pace—a time that would last for 20 years— “frustration” and “a desire for revenge welled up within” him.
In the days and weeks that followed, Glickman felt even more alone as almost no one came to his side. Cromwell unabashedly defended his decision. Robertson privately articulated just the meagerest of regrets. The general media’s reactions ranged from backers of Cromwell’s, Robertson’s, and their boss Brundage’s actions to those who hoped that the whole unhappy incident would not cloud the glory of American victories at the games, especially how Owens destroyed Aryan myths. Looking ahead, they wished that the heavy-handed Brundage would not oversee future teams. Some writers even had some uncharitable words about Glickman’s and Stoller’s reactions. Friendlier scribes acknowledged the runners’ immediate sadness but were pleased with how upbeat they appeared to be.
If Marty Glickman had been sent copies of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s coverage of the “meeting” and its aftermath, he had to have been very annoyed that the paper, which his family and friends read, also did not focus on the problems he and Stoller faced. It preferred to headline the treatment of the women who offended Brundage. Most disconcerting was the approach of some major Jewish newspapers, which stopped very short of seeing the ouster as an act of antisemitism. Rather they praised the boys for not dwelling on discrimination as the root cause of their exclusion and advised them to move on with their careers. In Glickman’s case that meant preparing for the upcoming fall football season at Syracuse University. These reactions from all sources chilled whatever hopes Glickman could have had that anyone, Jew or non-Jew, would rally to protest his exclusion.
Within this atmosphere, wherever he turned, the most Glickman would say about why he was out of the race was “politics.” Then, and for decades thereafter, Glickman would use vague terms to publicly depict what had transpired during those days in Berlin that turned ugly. When queried, Glickman kept to himself his own certain belief that antisemitism—and not nepotism or favoritism on the part of Cromwell toward his protégés—was the reason he was not permitted to run and triumph.
When he returned to campus in the fall of 1936, all he would remark about the sidelining was that he was “greatly disappointed.” Otherwise, he tendered a positive report about the games even as he pledged to those around him that come the next Olympiad in 1940, he would “win it all.” He consoled himself that with three years to go at Syracuse running track and playing football, he would refine his skills, and look forward to subsequent triumphs on the international stage. Yet the 1940 Olympiad, slated first for Tokyo and then for Helsinki, Finland, never took place as the world was by then entrenched in the Second World War.
As for Sam Stoller, he might have been consoled for a brief time when, on the boat back home to the United States, Lawson Robertson came up to him “and very apologetically admitted that he had made a mistake in not letting me run.” The coach revealed that he “stayed awake nights thinking of it and his entire trip was spoiled on that account.” The coach did not make clear precisely what were the origins of the mistake for which he was seeking forgiveness. By the time he landed in New York, Robertson had gotten over his discomfort. He told reporters, “The fact that Stoller and Glickman are Jewish had absolutely nothing to do with their removal. I hope no one misconstrues the move.” Stoller never recovered from the sidelining, announcing that he would “never run again.” When he returned to the University of Michigan for his senior year, he competed but was never again the same as an athlete, and in many respects his life was ruined.
Dean Cromwell slept very well as he crossed the Atlantic, satisfied with his actions and feelings about what he might have called the “Jewish question.” He gave voice to his prejudicial views two months after the Olympics in a speech in Los Angeles to 3,000 cheering followers of the German American Alliance: “If you read any of the reports of the unpleasantness in Germany or of the reception of the American Olympic team, don’t believe them. The reports were written by boys of the wrong nationality.” He more than implied that the critical writers were Jewish scribes from New York when he asserted that “only one-seventh of the population” in that city were American-born. He vowed never again to set foot where the ocean liner had dropped him off in that un-American locale. Three weeks later, Brundage seconded his close colleague’s opinion, though he offered his strong remarks in New York. Speaking at a German Day rally in Madison Square Garden, he asserted that he stood foursquare against “aliens who seek to undermine our American institutions. … We can learn much from Germany.” Back in Los Angeles, Cromwell backed off from his statement when his university president, under criticism from alumni, called for an “immediate investigation.” In defense, he called his remarks “jocular.” Still, Cromwell survived the school’s inquiries into his opinions. When all was said and then not done, he remained in his post for another 12 years. The word on the street among Jewish athletes in Los Angeles was that they would not be welcomed on his squad.
This excerpt is reprinted with minor modifications from Jeffrey S. Gurock, “Marty Glickman: The Life of an American Jewish Sports Legend” (2023), with permission of NYU Press.
Jeffrey S. Gurock is the Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. He has written or edited 25 books, including Jews in Gotham, which in 2012 was honored as Winner, Everett Family Foundation Award, Jewish Book of the Year, Jewish Book Council.