He Demanded Olympics Purity, but Not His Own

The Two Faces of Avery Brundage

Thursday, January 3, 2013
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MR. HYPOCRISY: Once owner of the Montecito Country Club, Montecito Inn, Presidio, and El Paseo and a multimillionaire praised in Santa Barbara, Avery Brundage was also a bigoted, dictatorial ruler of the Olympics. But while he demanded a ruthless Victorian standard of pure amateurism and ran roughshod over athletes like the great Jim Thorpe, Brundage hid his own scandalous private life.

Barney Brantingham

By all accounts, the Santa Barbaran was an anti-Semite who fawned on Hitler in the 1936 Olympics, and he reportedly banned Jewish athletes in order to please Hitler. He believed, along with others of the Olympics ruling class, that athletics was the proper province of the rich.

If he’d had his way, there would be no Winter Olympics or women Olympians. On the other hand, Brundage was a womanizer who had many lovers while married and sired two boys out of wedlock whom he refused to publicly acknowledge or remember in his will.

As the 1936 Olympics in Berlin approached, Brundage willingly swallowed German assurance that there would be no discrimination against Jewish athletes. But it was apparent that none would be allowed on the German team. Brundage vociferously opposed pressure for a U.S. boycott. On the ship over to Germany, Brundage made headline news when he and the American Olympic Committee, which he controlled, kicked swimmer Eleanor Holm Jarrett, a 1932 gold medalist, off the team. Brundage claimed she was at a party. She later claimed that he had propositioned her and she had refused.

The Santa Barbara Independent’s Brandon Fastman wrote earlier this year about what happened when two American Jewish relay runners, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were pulled from the lineup. Glickman believed that Brundage didn’t want to embarrass Hitler by putting Jews on the winners’ podium. The film Glickman, directed by James Freedman, tells the story of how the athlete overcame the disappointment to win fame as a sports broadcaster. Glickman and Stoller, the only two Jews on the U.S. track-and-field team, never got to compete in Berlin.

In Santa Barbara, Brundage was showered with praise and in 1949 was presented the Chamber of Commerce “Excelentismo Señor de Santa Barbara” award. On August 14, 1952, Brundage was named president of the International Olympic Committee at a Swiss gala, blustering on that the world was sick. “It is sick for only one reason ​— ​lack of fair play and good sportsmanship in human relations.”

His wife, Elizabeth, was at his side. Five days later, according to a 1980 piece in Sports Illustrated, “a beautiful blonde Finnish woman named Lilian Linnea Dresden, 33, gave birth to Brundage’s out-of-wedlock son in San Mateo, his second in two years by Dresden. Brundage kept both secret.”

For decades, he remained the most powerful man in world amateur sport and enforced an outdated all-amateur purity code. Since Brundage departed from the Olympic scene in 1972, skiers have been sponsored by ski-makers, and “dream teams” have been composed of NBA all-stars.

Despite the great affinity for women that Brundage demonstrated behind closed doors, he had problems with them as athletes. According to writer Roger Butterfield, Brundage once said, “You know, the ancient Greeks kept women out of their athletic games. They wouldn’t even let them on the sidelines. I’m not so sure but that they were right.” (The Greek ban may have been partly because some male runners ran nude.)

Few recall that a young Brundage, himself a good athlete, competed against Thorpe in the legendary 1912 Stockholm Olympics but lost. Brundage was not involved in stripping Thorpe of his gold medals, because the collegian had played some games as a professional baseball player. But once he took power, he stood stolidly against the latter-day movement to restore the medals to the aging Thorpe. It’s been debated: Was this small-minded, petty revenge against Thorpe or just part of Brundage’s massive ego and “purity” obsession?

Thorpe, a Native American and possibly the finest all-around athlete in U.S. sports history, died in 1953 without receiving his medals back. In a July-August 2012 edition of Smithsonian magazine, author Sally Jenkins told how the IOC finally bowed to public opinion in 1982, delivering two replica medals to Thorpe’s family, but refused to change the official record. To this day, the Olympic record does not mention the 15 events Thorpe competed in.

“It made Thorpe an asterisk, not a champion,” Jenkins wrote. Thorpe’s story and Brundage’s role in denying him his medals are told in the recent book Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Very good article - much better than the previous piece about Brundage a couple of months ago which fawned over him without delving into some of his despicable behavior, particularly at and before the '36 Olympics.

Justice (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 12:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

To believe that athletics are only the province of the rich in itself denotes mental illness, in any historical time period. What an embarassment.
A good read is Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America". While the story itself is fictional, the anti-Semitism of the time unfortunately isn't.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 2:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I liked Roth's futuristic PLOT book, and we also see how anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh was, including his wife the spiritual author Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
The original Greek Olympics likely began as exercise/workouts for those who would fight for their polis, often it WAS the better-off and the wealthier classes in Athens, etc. However, David Young and other authors have shown there wasn't ever any cult of amateurism, the malarkey Brundage dreamt up. The winners were often paid very well, so why not have NBA All-stars represent our country, eh?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 8:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mitt Romney demanded Olympics, purity and got it. And all he got back was you is kicking him in the teeth.

Oblati (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 12:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Romney siphoned 1.5 billion dollars from the Federal Government for his dog and pony show.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 12:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Glory be! Is this also a look into the social attitudes of Santa Barbara then? In other words, did Brundage live in a vacuum? Seemingly, this "flirtation" with Hitler is revealed in the private lives of all too many an icon of his period. Joseph Patrick Kennedy comes to mind. And the name of Charles Lindbergh has already been mentioned.

salsipuedes (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 7:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Romney was brought in to rescue the Olympics, if you don't remember - he did not ask for the job. It was an unmitigated free fall disaster before he bailed it out and saved what shred of American prestige was left at that time.

Give him his due and put that whole prior debacle in context. Thank you Mitt Romney for doing what needed to be done. And glad to see you can still flash that famous smile, no matter how many still try to kick you in the teeth.

Oblati (anonymous profile)
January 4, 2013 at 11:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh bs he wanted that Olympics job- nobody begged him, he petitioned. It's the Presidency he didn't want.

Thank you Mitt Romney for all the years of laughter at your expense.
Come back for more derision anytime.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2013 at 12:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Oblati" can recite Mitt Romney's spiel from his book "Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games," but his colleagues on the Winter Olympic Committee remember it a bit differently:

:: "While Romney's moves energized the committee, some people familiar with the budget insist his dire forecasts were overstated. A Globe review of archived records showed the organizing committee already had secured commitments of nearly $1 billion in revenues, including $445 million as its share of the NBC contract and nearly $450 million in contracts for sponsorships, before Romney arrived.

:: "In addition, the Utah Legislature already had loaned $59 million in sales tax revenue to the Games and Congress was prepared to provide hundreds of millions in direct support, despite protests from Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. Direct federal aid for the Games ultimately totaled $382 million.

:: ''In fact, most of the federal money was already in place before Mitt came on,'' said Senator Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican who supports Romney and served as point man for the federal funding. ''The Clinton administration was completely supportive in saying these are America's games, we will do whatever we can to make sure they are successful. The one concern I had was whether we would get the same degree of support from the Bush administration, which we did.''

:: "Romney has since touted his economic rescue of the Games as a hallmark of leadership: ''The tsunami of financial, banking, legal, government, morale, and sponsor problems following the revelation of the bid scandal swamped the organization. It was the most troubled turnaround I had ever seen,'' Romney wrote in his book."

This passage is from a 2007 Boston Globe article which presents a nice history of Romney's actual impact at the Winter Olympics, not the campaign puffery:

binky (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2013 at 12:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks for doing the legwork on that one Binky.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2013 at 1:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

You never know what Oblati is going to post next, but it's always bound to be something astonishing.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2013 at 1:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Since we're talking about Mitt Romney and the olympics, here's a short clip of John McCain's mother from about 2007 blasting Romney about this issue while her son nervously backs away from what she's saying.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2013 at 3:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

c'mon Oblati, blather on and face Binky's FACTS about your beloved Romney! When you write, "And all he got back was you is kicking him in the teeth." it makes no sense, like most of your mush. You're the perfect point man/woman for deluded, defeated, teethy Mitt...

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2013 at 7 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sounds like Operation Paperclip

loonpt (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 12:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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