Dean Cromwell and USC, assessing the past sins of historic figures with honesty...(commenting on piece from LA Times)


The piece below is an example of the challenges that many institutions must consider as they come to a honest assesment of their pasts.

Dean Cromwell was the track coach at USC from 1909-1948. He also was assistant Olympic coach for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team and head coach on the 1948 U.S. Olympic Track & field team.

Mel_Patton_1948.jpgMel Patton, with Olympic coach, Dean Cromwell, 1948, photo: Wikipedia

It is his association with the 1936 Olympic team, that causes much concern in the well researched and written LA Times article noted below.

Dean Cromwell was known as the 'Maker of Champions'. Cromwell lead USC to 12 NCAA team tiles in track & field (1926, 1930-31, 1935-1943). He also developed such Olympic athletes as Fred Kelly, 1912 Olympic gold, 110m hurdles, Charley Paddock (1920 gold at 100m, and 4x100), and Mel Patton (1948 Olympic gold, 200m and 4x100m). In his time at USC, his athletes set 14 world records, and won 12 Olympic gold medals.

The issues are these:

While assistant coach in Berlin in 1936, Cromwell is accused of keeping two Jewish American sprinters from the 4x100m relay team. This has been a rumor with some stature since 1936. Avery Brundage, the long time USOC head, soon to be IOC head, known Nazi sympathiser, was said to want to not insult Adolf Hitler by having Jews on a winning relay team.

Hitler had not met the high jump gold medalist, Cornelius Johnson, a black US athlete. He was told by the IOC that either he met all the gold medalists or he met none. So, he would not meet Jesse Owens.

After Jesse Owens had won 3 gold medals, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe were named to the 4x100m team, replacing Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, the only Jews on the U.S. Olympic Track team. Stoller and Glickman were told by head Olympic Track Coach, Lawson Robertson, that the German team had upped the quality of their team and that the US did likewise. While Stoller noted that it was probably due coaching favoritism, as Coach Robertson's two athletes, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff, were named to the 4x100m with Metcalfe and Owens, as both Draper and Wykoff had both matriculated at USC and been coached by Dean Cromwell.

Marty Glickman, who became an iconic sports journalist, always believed that he and Stoller were replaced on the 4x100m as to not insult Hitler by having a team with blacks and Jews winning gold ahead of the German team. This writer recalls a meeting between Glickman and Owens on Bud Greenspans' Olympic shows when they discussed the controversy. Glickman showed total class as he never blamed Owens and Metcalfe.

The facts are these:

1. Avery Brundage was a admirer of National Socialism due to the fact, as he saw the the Nazis saw the global nemesis as Communism. Brundage had put all of his energy into keeping the US in the 1936 Olympics, which was no mean feat. It was known that he wanted to curry favor with Hitler, and keeping Stoller and Glickman out of the U.S. 4x100m team, so that American Jews were not included in the winning relay team ahead of the German team. Ironically, Stoller noted that Cromwell did not want Owens and Metcal on the team, as Stoller noted, Cromwell "wanted an all-white relay team."

2. Dean Cromwell wanted to curry favor with the most powerful man in U.S. amateur sports, Avery Brundage. Cromwell joined the America First Movement, the major isolationaist movement manipulated and co-founded by Avery Brundage.

3. Dean Cromwell was also known to believe that Blacks were not equal to humans. In the book, 'Championship Techniques in Track and Field', published in 1941 noted that "the Negro athlete excels because he is closer to the primitive than the white athlete." Cromwell added, " It was not so long ago that his ability to sprint and jump was a lie-and-death matter in the jungle. His muscles are pliable and his easygoing disposition is a valuable aid to the mental and physical relaxation a runner and jumper must have."

As someone who has a degree in history, and uses those skills each day to discern truth from fiction, this time of challenging historic figures on their actual or apocryphal actions or beliefs is fascinating.

In recent months, President Woodrow Wilson's name was removed from Princeton University's Public policy school and Wilson college, due to his racist views and actions.

Dean Cromwell's racist and anti-Semitic views were not hidden. This does not make it any better, but it does help us understand the historical figure. It also helps us appreciate Jesse Owens, his amazing 4 Olympic medals, and the racism he endured. Truth was, Jesse Owens was the most popular man, by many accounts, in Berlin in 1936.

Should Cromwell's name be removed at the USC track complex? That, in my mind, is up to the University community. Dean Cromwell was a coach with much stature who was both racist and anti-Semitic, from his own words.

Dean Cromwell was a man of much complication, and while I am cautious in taking down statues and names of complexes, I believe that this time of historical reckoning has been a long time in coming. I will be curious to see how USC decides on this conundrum.

Please check out this column via LA Times:

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