Saturday, February 06, 2016

Too fast for me.

Yesterday I stopped by the corner of West 3rd and Lakeside Ave., just to snap a photo of the Jesse Owens statue. Thousands no doubt walk past it before and after every Browns game, but otherwise it's not a corner anywhere near where I might find myself walking on a given day.

Knowing its location, I made a point of noticing it as we ran past during last year's Turkey Trot. The fact is, the patina on this seven-foot bronze statue appears deep gray and it is shaded by trees. It doesn't catch the eye of anyone driving past.

Located across street from the Justice Center, this piece was created by Cleveland Arts Prize recipient William M. McVey (1904-1995) in 1982.

It is perhaps surprising that this legendary Cleveland native, who achieved four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, has never been depicted in a big-budget Hollywood biopic. This may be for the best, for any film created in the last century would probably gloss over some of the more troubling aspects of the Jesse Owens story and just focus on his success and (supposed) humiliation of Hitler at the "Nazi" games.

Jeremy Schaap's book Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics lays out the conundrum which athletes like Owens faced when confronted with a popular sentiment that the US should not participate in the Berlin games. The question was, should we not boycott games held in a nation which has codified Antisemitism and bigotry?

The counter argument was how can the US pass judgement on Germany when she, too, is a nation of entrenched and legal racism, i.e. Jim Crow?

Then there is the argument that it was Owens' responsibility, as a man of color, to best the Nazis on their own turf. Finally, and no one could have known this at the time, the next two Olympics were fated not to happen due to World War II. If Jesse Owens had decided not to run in 1936, he would have been far past his prime in 1948. Today no one would remember who he is.

Jesse Owens is finally receiving the attention he deserves, in RACE, a film opening on February 19 and from the trailer it would appear that many of the issues posed in Schaap's compose the main narrative of this film.

My assumption is that the film will conclude with the athlete's moment of triumph in 1936 and not delve into his later years, through which he was unable to or in fact prevented from successfully capitalizing upon his victories, disappointments he attempted himself to articulate through somewhat clumsy memoirs like Blackthink and I Have Changed.

The Berlin Olympics were eighty years ago this summer, so too was the last time Cleveland hosted a national political convention - the Republican National Convention of 1936. This summer Republicans will once again convene in Cleveland, congregating mere blocks from the intersection of Lakeside and West 3rd. I hope our guests take a moment to visit the statue and to celebrate the triumph of this legendary Cleveland citizen.

After all, Jesse Owens was a Republican.

Stephan James is Jesse Owens in RACE

Distance: 3.38 miles
Avg Pace: 7:48
Duration: 26:18
Route: Boulevard Loop

Beautiful, sunshiny day. Brisk run around the neighborhood, past the boy's school. Definitely overdressed, I should have taken the sun into account, it may be below forty degrees but I was sweating.

Temperature: 39°
Climate: cool and sunny
Pavement: dry

Weight: 161.5 lbs. (-1.0)
Mood: anxious & grateful

1974 Playlist
Autobahn - Kraftwerk
Save the People from "Godspell"
Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo - Rick Derringer
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Boogie On Reggae Woman - Stevie Wonder
Chameleon - Maynard Ferguson

New York Times
Cleveland Arts Prize
FOCUS Features
Cleveland Centennial

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