Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Review: Marty Glickman (2023)

By Jeffrey S. Gurock

Somewhere in the mid-1990s, I had the chance to have dinner with a small group that included veteran broadcaster Marty Glickman. 

This was quite a thrill for me, since I had grown up listening to Glickman's radio broadcasts of the New York Giants' football games. He helped turn me into a fan of the game in the early 1960s. Needless to say, I spent most of the evening shutting up and listening. 

I still remember three pieces of conversation from Glickman:

* When I asked why the Giants had fallen apart in the mid-1960s, he said that coach Allie Sherman - who was Glickman's best friend in those years - became too full of himself and was convinced he could outsmart the rest of the league. Sherman was wrong. 

* He described, for the 6,000,000th time no doubt, what it was like to walk into the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1936. Yes, the athletes really did make fun of Adolf Hitler, comparing him to Charlie Chaplin.

* Most importantly, he was still furious at American Olympic officials who decided he couldn't run in the finals of the 4x100-meter final of the men's relay. 

The latter piece of information holds center stage in Jeffrey Gurock's book, "Marty Glickman." Gurock is a Professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University, so he's well qualified to take this matter on.

In case you missed the story of this incident, Glickman and Sam Stoller were both replaced at the last minute on the American team by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. The excuse was that the Germans were said to be holding back some top sprinters in an attempt to steal a victory in the event. This, of course, was poppycock. Glickman and Stoller were Jewish, and the host country had taken a brief pause during the Olympics in its attempts to give Jews something resembling "non-person" status in the Germany of that era. Therefore, Avery Brundage, head of the U.S. Olympic group, seems to have passed the word to track coach Dean Cromwell to replace the two Jewish runners and prevent any "embarrassment" to their German hosts by having two Jews on the podium.

We've never had any definitive accounts come out of what exactly happened in the days and hours leading up to the relay final. But Glickman was convinced that antisemitism played a crucial role in the story, and others have reached the same conclusion.

Glickman's story leading up to those Games was an unlikely one. He was the son of two immigrants from Romania, and the family lived in New York City. The Glickmans slowly worked their way up the economic ladder, encountering some missed steps along the way. Gurock tries to fit them into a larger picture about life for immigrant Jews in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, there's a great deal of anthropology here.

Eventually, Glickman fits in with melting pot of American life, the sports world. While discrimination has been part of athletics forever, the playing field has been a little more level most of the time. Glickman was a fabulous all-around athlete in high school, one of New York City's best. He eventually went to Syracuse University, where he became a world-class sprinter. That led him to the Olympic Trials, which led him to Berlin.

After the Games, Glickman only said that he was disappointed that he didn't get the chance to run in Berlin. He was practicing the usual "go along to get along" strategy that minority groups have been using for years and years in order to status incrementally. In hindsight, it's slightly amazing (using today's standards) that it wasn't much of an issue. In fact, Eleanor Holm received more publicity for getting kicked off the American team than Glickman's slight because she had a few glasses of champagne on the boat to Germany. Glickman also had to cope with the idea that Jesse Owens won his fourth gold medal of the Games in that missed relay race, and thus became an immortal. Gurock doesn't touch on this part of the story too much, but certainly Owens' achievement became the dominant story coming out of the race as far as sports history was concerned. 

Glickman's love of sports eventually helped him almost fall into broadcasting, and he seemed to be everywhere on the New York City sports scene. Glickman was first widely noticed for his work with the New York Knicks' basketball team. He had a chance to become a national voice of the NBA during the 1950s, but was passed over - probably because he was from New York and he was Jewish. Regional accents weren't too popular then; everyone on the air in national broadcasts seemed to come out of the Midwest - or at least sound like they did. But Glickman always was busy, usually with the Giants but he found other work as well.

A couple of things changed by the 1980s. Glickman found a new role as a mentor to the next generation of broadcasters, a wise teacher always willing to give guidance to those who asked. Marv Albert and Bob Costas are in that group. When I met him, he was critiquing the broadcasts of the Buffalo Sabres. Meanwhile, Glickman finally let loose with the rage that he had kept bottled inside of him since 1936. It probably was good to let that out, but at that point he couldn't let it go completely. And who could blame him?

At times this book feels a little bit like it should be found in the "Jewish Studies" section of the bookstore instead of with the sports books. This is a relatively short book, checking in at under 200 pages of copy. It feels as if the broadcasting years were a bit short-changed. Some of the material in the publication, especially in the beginning, feels as if it needs better attribution. Yes, there is a pile of footnotes in the back, but this is important enough of an issue to give a full explanation right away. 

Still, the story told in "Marty Glickman" is a compelling one, and it's still important in this day and age. Glickman's own autobiography might be more interesting to the people who come to this site, but Gurock's contribution to the conversation carries plenty of weight too.

Four stars

Learn more about this book from Amazon.com. (As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)   

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