To separate politics from sport is a virtual ideal, not realizable, and similat in context to examining religion without a political context. The Jesse Owens performance in Berlin in 1936 showed how efforts to insulate sport from politics is futile. Seventy-Six years later, there is still discussion as to whether or not Hitler shook Owen’s hand, albeit clandestinely away from witnesses.
American papers at the time largely avoided the issue of Owen’s skin color, while German press focused only on aspects of ” the other.” The probable reason , and the German propagandists knew this, was that if race became a central issue, America’s racial issues, slavery, closed door immigration policies, Indian genocide, anti-semitism, et al. and all would be used to invoke crucial similarities between fascism and the rhetoric of superiority and social control in the two countries. Either the American press did not have the balls or intellectual baggage to engage or given a Chomsky type analysis, were simply cowed into framing the issue in the narrowest possible scope possible. It would be almost absurd to justify why an athlete who not only represented their America and performed better than anyone else, was not permitted to live in specific neighborhoods, could not vote in certain parts of the country, and even feared for his life in much of the south. Effectively, Owens was discardable, Blacks seen as a natural resource in which equally bright diamonds could be mined for propaganda purposes. The seventh son status of the American black was contradictory, but it was also a pretext to advance the cause of equality.
To the Nazis, Owens and all the other African Americans were like show dogs, bred to perform and a flip side to the image of the happy-go lucky minstrel performer that existed for pity and laughs. At the same time, African American intellectuals, like Du Bois and Oliver Cox also understood the yearning for an idyllic romanticized past of the African utopia where manna was in hand’s reach on the lower branches was pure fantasy. There is duality here between empathy, often sentimental for an oppressed people and a desire for love of country. The ambivalences and in-between emotions of belonging confronting an inherent opposition to modernity and furthermore transforming modernity into a more inclusive concept.
Du Bois and George Padmore seemed to grasp, how, although the roots of fascism were pre-dating industrialism, the German incarnation of fascism was a profound revolution based on fundamental doctrines that could not entirely we wiped out by appeals to morality. It was a transnational movement and the scope of fascism could be packaged into various neo-liberal disguises, part of an ideology of materialism that could undercut any vision of pan-Africanism welded to a given political movement.To Nazis like Himmler, who an appalling criminal, nonetheless had a more nuanced view of culture than Hitler, he saw a Black semantics that for example in Jazz and swing music which had captivated Germany, a dynamic of the black as both symbol of liberty yet also caught in a tanglement of slavery; again the in-between state and like Bell Hooks critique of white culture and rap, Himmler saw white German youth passing through Jazz as a transitory and appropriative condition….
from a review of a book on Owens ( see link)
…Most of the American athletes, blacks and Jews alike, opposed a boycott. “The black athletes rationalized their decision by pointing to domestic prejudice and, like the Jewish athletes, by suggesting that winning in Berlin would embarrass the Third Reich and repudiate its claims of racial superiority,” Schaap notes. After Owens failed to receive an invitation to a major track meet in New Orleans, he asked his coach at Ohio State, Larry Snyder, “Why should we oppose Germany for doing something that we do right here at home?” He said he had been running all this life to escape American racial discrimination. “All I want is a chance to run.” Owens and other prominent black Olympic candidates signed a letter to Avery Brundage, the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which supported U.S. participation (while acknowledging their dissatisfaction with the situation of American blacks)….
…The decisive vote in favor of participation came from Avery Brundage and his associat
n the U.S. Olympic Committee. Schaap describes Brundage as a crypto-fascist and the preeminent American apologist for Nazi Germany. More to the immediate point, Brundage wanted to preserve his power—what role was there for an Olympic Committee without an Olympics? Read More:http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/oped/garrity/07/owens.html
…When he returned to the United States, Owens and his wife were refused service in New York hotels. The Hotel Pennsylvania finally gave them rooms on the condition they use the servants’ entrance. Talk of big endorsement money evaporated. Owens established a chain of dry cleaning sores, which failed; as did a barnstorming black baseball team (Owens sometimes raced a horse across the outfield). He eventually took a job with the Illinois state government, as a physical education specialist, and later became an executive for various companies. After World War II, he was much in demand as a banquet speaker. He was careful in his politics, stressing racial conciliation rather than confrontation. He once disputed athlete-actor Paul Robeson, who suggested that blacks would not and should not fight for the United States in the event of war with the Soviet Union. For such attitudes black militants called him an Uncle Tom. ( ibid.)
In contrast, Du Bois attempted to look at the Olympics from a transnational angle. He criticized the racist representations of Black Olympic
competitors in the French and German press, in particular the astonishment with which Black participation and victories were commented on.
Du Bois also described the two nations’ different ways of presenting Black athletes, noting that German papers “pick African American competitors out for comment” and label these competitors “Negroes,” whereas the French put a special emphasis on printing their colored faces. Du Bois’s astute observation entails a criticism of overtly German vis-à-vis clandestine and concealed French forms of racism. Du Bois changed his initially hesitant tone in the articles he wrote after leaving Germany in December 1936. Certain that “his friends … understood” his reticence for “it simply wasn’t safe to attempt anything further,” he now fulminated against Germany’s racial policies. Looking at the advances Hitler had made since “riding into power by accusing the world of a conspiracy to ruin Germany by economic starvation,” Du Bois characterized the Nazi state as a “content and prosperous whole” on the surface with strongly reduced unemployment rates and “perfect public order.” However, his gaze reached beneath the surface: “And yet, in … contradictory paradox to all this, Germany is silent, nervous, suppressed; it speaks in whispers; there is no public opinion, no opposition, no discussion of anything; there are waves of enthusiasm, but never any protest.”
Germany, to him, was a “paradox and contradiction.” Painted in a brilliant, innocent white on the outside, it was overshadowed by a dark
abiding presence inside. Read More:http://www.ghi-dc.org/files/publications/bu_supp/supp5/supp5_099.pdf