This Day in Jewish History

1917: A Jewish Sports Legend Is Born

Track-and-field champion Marty Glickman, who was barred from participating in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, went on to become a prominent sports commentator.

Josef Jindřich Šechtl via Wikipedia

August 14, 1917, was the birthdate of Marty Glickman, the New York-born athlete who traveled to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics only to be pulled from competition because he was Jewish, and who later became a household name in his hometown as a broadcaster for nearly every major sport.

Martin ("Marty") Glickman was born in the Bronx, New York, to Harry and Molly Glickman, both of whom had immigrated to the United States from Iasi, Romania. At James Madison High School, in Brooklyn, he was a championship sprinter at the national level. That was followed by Syracuse University, where Glickman both ran and played football.

It was when he was a freshman at Syracuse that Glickman qualified to run in the 4x100 relay for the U.S. Olympic team. He traveled to Berlin, only to be replaced on the relay squad just before the trial heats began. The same fate was suffered by his Jewish teammate Sam Stoller, from the University of Michigan. Assigned to take their places were sprinters Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, both of whom were African American. Owens had already won three gold medals in individual events and Metcalfe a silver.

The relay team went on to win the gold medal, but no explanation was ever provided for the last-minute substitution. To Glickman, and to most observers, it seemed clear that the move was a gesture by U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage and track coach Dean Cromwell intended to appease their German hosts. Embarrassing as it was for Adolf Hitler to have to watch two black sprinters win additional medals in the capital of the Third Reich, it would have been even worse if the winning team included Jewish runners, especially as the German runners performed unanimously poorly at the games.

Many years later, Glickman also had the opportunity to study the film of the qualifying heat in the 100-meter dash, during the Olympic trials. His fifth-place finish had prevented him from even being entered in that prestigious event in Berlin. What he saw suggested that he had come in third, not fifth, and that manipulation of the results had resulted in his not reaching the event while two of Dean Cromwell’s runners from the University of Southern California were placed ahead of him.

For the rest of his life, Glickman carried the injury of having been robbed of the opportunity to compete in the Olympics, and was convinced that it was because of his Jewish background. Sixty-two years later, in 1998, the then-president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, William J. Hybl, honored Glickman and the memory of Sam Stoller, who had died in 1983, by presenting Glickman with a plaque “in lieu of the gold medals they didn’t win” in Berlin. At the time, Hybl noted that, although there was no written proof that anti-Semitism had been at play, it was clearly the case. “'I was a prosecutor," he said. "I'm used to looking at evidence. The evidence was there.''

Glickman had brief professional careers in both football and basketball, but it was as a radio broadcaster that he found his real calling. As a college junior, in 1937, he had been offered the opportunity to broadcast a sporting event on a local radio station after he had scored two touchdowns in a Syracuse victory over Cornell. For that and a series of succeeding appearances, he was paid $15 per game, making $100 that first season.

Between 1948 and 1957, Glickman, who had served with the U.S. Marines in the Pacific during World War II, provided the narration for the sports newsreels produced by Paramount Pictures. That was followed by his serving as the on-announcer for the New York Knicks (basketball) for 21 years and the New York Giants (football), for 23 years.

In a review of Glickman’s 1999 memoir, “The Fastest Kid on the Block,” Nat Asch told of how Glickman, a friend of his, had been introduced in the 1950s, to Tom Gallery, the head of NBC Sports. Gallery was interested in hiring Glickman to serve as the host of the weekly broadcast of an NBA game on national TV. Gallery told Glickman that his only reservation was the announcer’s name, which, he said, sounded “too Jewish.”

Glickman, according to Asch, told Gallery that he would be willing to change his name. “Gallery smiled and asked Marty whether he had an alternative name that he could use. ‘Yes,’ said Marty. ‘And what would that be,’ asked Gallery. ‘Lipschitz.’ said Marty, ‘Marty Lipschitz.’ ‘Gallery’s face reddened,’ Marty reported, ‘that ended the meeting.’ It also ended any intention that Marty Glickman would broadcast any NBA games on NBC.”

Even without NBC, the range and the quality of Glickman’s career were mind-boggling. His play-by-play coverage of sports was considered so good and so evocative that, after TV became the standard medium for sports programming, viewers would turn off the audio on their TV and listen to Glickman from the radio, even as they watched the visual of the game on their screen.

After the Giants, Glickman covered the New York Jets; he broadcast pre- and post-game shows for the Yankees baseball team for 22 years. He even served as the announcer for the Yonkers Raceway for a dozen years. He also broadcast rodeos, roller derbies – and a marbles tournament.

Marty Glickman continued working up to the age of 74, when he retired. He died nine years later, on January 3, 2001, of complications following heart surgery.