Jesse Owens (1913 - 1980) of the USA (right) crosses the finishing line to win the 100 metres at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He won three other gold medals, in the 200 metres, 4 X 100 metres relay and long jump.

In the third installment of our Black History Month Profile (the first being hall of famer Marion Motley, and the second being on Joe Louis) we will focus on a man who embarrassed Hitler; Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens is arguably the most famous track and field athlete EVER. Representing the United States in the 1936 Olympic games in Germany. This after starring in college at Ohio State University where he set numerous track and field records including a meet in Michigan where he set not one, but three world records at the time.

He headed to Germany behind the backdrop of a world war that was looming, and pressure from the NAACP to not attend the games at all. The 1936 games where supposed to be an event that would put the world on notice to the nazi parties power, but Owens and his american teammates put a wrench in those plans. Owens won a gold medal in every event that he entered, four in all. Beating teammate Mack Robinson, brother of Jackie Robinson, in the 200 meter sprint.

Not all Germans were Owens haters. Adi Dassler, a famous shoemaker from Germany who specialized in athletic wear fought with his brother Rudy about sponsoring Owens. Adi knew Owens was the best track and field athlete, and wanted the publicity of the Gold Medal athlete wearing his shoes. Rudy thought sponsoring the American, who was going up against German athletes, would bring negative attention to the company (Dassler Brother Sports Shoes).

He personally delivered the shoes to Owens and he was proved correct when Owens won. His brother Rudy however, was also proved correct. The Nazi part was none to pleased that the Dassler Brothers had sponsored an American, and an African American at that. They made life difficult on the business during World War 2. But a photo of Adi Dassler and Owens actually saved the business. When American troops arrived in Germany, the Nazi party had demanded the shoe factory start helping with war time needs. When Americans arrived they had initial plans to blow up the factory, until Adi showed them a picture of himself with Owens with Owens wearing his shoes. The brothers relationship however was never the same with Adi forming Addidas, and Rudy forming Puma.

BACK TO OWENS

Owens returned home to the racist country that he left. After winning four gold medals Hitler refused to meet with Owens, having met with all the other gold medal winners (honestly a good thing!) Owens wasn’t surprised that Hitler did not want to be seen with an African American who just showed up in his house, ate his food, played with his dog, and took his gold medals. What he was surprised with is that the President of the United States (FDR) would shun him. Franklin Roosevelt never congratulated Owens for his victory in Germany, and this pushed Owens to endorse the Republican nominee who ran against Roosevelt in the following election.

But even though Owens faced the same racism when he returned, that he left (he was honored at a hotel but wasn’t allowed to enter the front door) there were more business opportunities for him after winning four gold medals. Owens choose to go after the money and this angered the Olympic committee so much that it took away his amateur status. Essentially ending Owens career. Within a year he was old news. Having to take jobs as a gas station attendant, and a janitor (Mack Robinson and his silver medal returned in 1936 to sweep streets. 10 years later his brother would break the color barrier in baseball).

In 1980 Owens died of lung cancer. He had been addicted to cigarettes starting at age 32. Dont smoke kids. His life was depicted in the awesome movie RACE. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rectify that.