SI Vault
Robert Creamer
January 30, 1956
In the event that you are trying to pinpoint in your mind the things you should remember about Avery Brundage, the strong-faced gentleman pictured on the opposite page, he is the black villain who, in his 24-year reign as president of the U.S. Olympic Association, threw Swimmer Eleanor Holm off the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in midocean for sipping champagne, who cold-heartedly took a new automobile away from the pretty Canadian figure skater, Barbara Ann Scott, who ruthlessly declared Jesse Owens a professional, who peremptorily suspended Babe Didrikson, who publicly chastised Charley Paddock, who refused to allow European countries to reimburse their athletes for the regular salaries they lost when they were away from their jobs competing at the Olympic Games. You may have heard him described as Slavery Avery, a man with a discus where his heart should be, or as a man who looks comfortable in a high, stiff collar, or as a man wearing a slightly stuffed shirt.
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January 30, 1956

The Embattled World Of Avery Brundage

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"Then they said I declared Jesse Owens a professional. Jesse is a fine man. I have the utmost respect for him. His accomplishments in the '36 Games were remarkable. But—" He spun his chair and faced the desk. "Certain tours had been arranged to take place after the Games. Groups of competitors were to travel to different countries and compete in special meets. No one had to go, though most, of course, wanted to. Jesse had agreed to go with a group that was to visit Sweden. Well. Some smart fellow in New York had a bright idea on how to make a quick bundle of money and he sent Jesse a telegram offering him $40,000 to turn professional.

"Anyone who's been around track and field for a while knows there simply isn't that much money in professional running. Jesse was advised to wait a bit and think about it. But $40,000 is a great deal of money, and Jesse was just a young fellow, so he announced that he was going to accept the offer. And he didn't go to Sweden, as he had promised. All right. He was suspended. What did the headlines say? The headlines said: 'Brundage declares Jesse Owens a professional!' "

His face was truculent again and his voice rose slightly in intensity.

"Brundage had nothing to do with it! Jesse Owens declared Jesse Owens a professional. I think it was a shame. He was a great athlete, a gentleman, a fine person. He still is. But where did he end up with that professional contract? Down in Cuba running against a racehorse!"

Brundage all but snorted as he said this, as if the idea of a great runner appearing in such a garish spectacle were almost too much to bear.

"Then the Barbara Ann Scott thing. She won the world figure-skating championship, and the people in Ottawa wanted to give her an automobile. I was in California at the time and I read the story there. I clipped it out and sent it to Europe to a friend of mine, an Olympic official. This was when 'broken time' was a very big issue, and this automobile thing tied in with my arguments about the growing tendency for amateur athletes to receive material gain for athletic success, which is against the rules. Well. He called it to the attention of the Canadian Olympic Committee and they pointed out to Miss Scott that if she accepted the automobile she'd be leaving herself wide open to charges of professionalism—which meant, of course, that she'd be ineligible for the 1948 Winter Olympics. So she returned the automobile. What happened?" Brundage lifted one arm in a gesture of resignation. " 'Brundage takes car away from Barbara Ann Scott.' "

He grinned.


"Oh, they gave it to me that time. They even discussed it in the Canadian Parliament. But here!" He sat up straight and tapped his fingers on the desk in front of him. " Barbara Ann Scott went on to win the Olympic title for Canada the next winter. And she and her mother came over to me—there at the Games in St. Moritz—and they thanked me for helping to save her amateur standing.

"Things like that mean a good deal to a man." He jabbed a powerful arm straight out, pointing at the scrap-books. "They certainly mean more than those headlines."

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