Champions for all time
With Russia facing a ban from the 2018 Winter Olympics because of systematic doping on its team, it seems appropriate to share a story about a courageous act involving Olympic participation.
A couple of years ago, we read a story that was so inspirational that we feel compelled to share it again.
In 1936, the basketball team of Long Island University took a secret vote to boycott the Olympics, scheduled that year to take place in Germany. These boys had just finished a season at 25-0 and had won 33 straight games by an average margin of 23 points.
Despite being a tiny school, LIU had been referred to as the best team in the nation. So why would these talented players opt to take themselves — both individually and as a team — out of the Olympics?
The first part of the answer was several members of the team were Jewish and they were pressured at home not to travel to Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The second part of the answer was that their coach was the legendary Clair Bee — the innovative basketball wizard who later went on to write the Chip Hilton sports series for youngsters.
As anyone who has read any of the Hilton books knows, Bee was a champion of underdogs.
Bee suggested the vote with an interesting qualification — if a single player voted for the boycott, the vote would be recorded as unanimous. Obviously, at least one voted for the boycott because the entire team sat out the Olympics.
The story remained largely untold until 1995 when one of the members of the team told his daughter about it during a visit to the Holocaust Museum. Why the team chose to keep the story quiet for so many years is a mystery. It is believed that LIU was the only university to choose to stay out of the 1936 Olympics because of the political climate and the persecution of Jews in Germany.
Its president, Tristram Walker Metcalfe, said in a statement after the vote:
“Our conviction that the United States should not participate in the Olympic Games since they are being held in Germany has not been altered by the fact that our basketball team is now recognized generally as a possible Olympic representative. Such participation would be indirect, if not direct, contribution of the raising of funds to finance such participation.”
And so this principled group of college basketball players passed up the athletic chance of a lifetime. Their courageous “one for all vote” provided an extraordinary example of the true meaning of being a team.
To read the entire article by Michael Weinreb, visit ESPN Page 2 at: sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=weinreb/090414.
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.