Race, Politics and Sports in Germany

I traveled to Berlin and Cologne, Germany with my Dunn Sport and Wellness Scholars program to learn about the role the Berlin Olympics played in the history of the world and also about the intersectionality between sports and society.  We explored the history of the Berlin Olympics and the main role it played during this period of time just prior to World War II by visiting Olympic Stadium in Berlin and the Olympic Sport Museum in Cologne.

In front of Olympic Stadium

As the election period heightened this year, Donald Trump has been compared to Adolf Hitler based on his discriminatory actions towards Muslims.  After going to see the Berlin Wall and visiting the Topography of Terror museum that explained how discriminatory practices against Jews were put into action, I saw numerous parallels to the rhetoric Hitler and his supporters used in the 1930’s to what Trump and his supporters use today.  “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” explains how America has not learned from Germany’s mistake.  Germany is still ashamed of themselves for the Holocaust.  Our tour guide in Berlin showed us an apartment that had German flags displayed outside and she said it isn’t common to see German flags flown outside of residences because of the lack of national pride.  People don’t necessarily say they’re proud to be German because of the negative connotation of what it means.  Germany is ashamed of their past and is trying to right their wrongs while many in the US seem to be proud of the discrimination done in the past and still done today.  I had feared history repeating itself but didn’t understand the full effect of the past and what could be until visiting Berlin.

Being at Ohio State has tainted my view of the love and appreciation we have about Jesse Owens because we have so many buildings named after him.  I was under the impression he was well loved all over the nation due to how well he did in the 1936 Olympics I was surprised to see that Jesse was much more celebrated in Berlin than he was in the US.

Street behind Olympic Stadium named after Jesse Owens

One reason why Jesse was treated so well in Germany was because of the lack of Africans in Germany.  There weren’t segregated bathrooms or living quarters based on race because Germany didn’t have enough Africans to discriminate against.  The racial makeup of Germany still hasn’t changed in that regard.  I could go hours without seeing someone of African descent.  It was a tad bit alarming because I felt like I stuck out due to my race but it’s not much different from being at Ohio State.

At Olympic Stadium, there’s a VIP lounge named after Jesse and a street right behind the stadium.  After reading more in depth about the Olympics, the Germans celebrated Jesse and his accomplishments.  They chanted his name in the stadium, followed him around to get autographs and pictures; where in the US he came back to the same racism as any other black person.  He represented this country abroad but was treated the same when he got back.  This led me to want to make sure no black athlete dies in vain.  Jesse did wonders in the track and field community but when he died, there was barely a peep.  Being able to see the movie “Race” has shed some light on his life but I hope to carry his spirit along with me in all my sport endeavors.

The political atmosphere during the 1930’s in Germany was tumultuous.  Hateful rhetoric towards Jewish people, homosexuals and those with disabilities were the main topic of propaganda.  Sadly, some of this same rhetoric has made its way into our own political atmosphere.  One way politics and sports go together in Germany is many words that have to do with sport have political meanings behind them.  Behind Olympic Stadium there is a field that was used for political marches and parades.  Hitler would use sports to brainwash young people into believing the Nazi Party’s ideals.  Germany’s soccer federation The DFB excluded anyone who was Jewish from participating in the sport including players, owners and journalists. Because of the discrimination, the United States almost boycotted the Olympics but the United States Olympic Committee voted to participate anyway.  Who knows what the world would be like if Jesse Owens wasn’t able to win his four gold medals and showcase to the world that the Aryan race was not as dominate as they proclaimed.

Berlin Wall Memorial

As of late I have been interested in learning more about how discrimination is infiltrated in society.  Propaganda is the way the Nazi Party was able to do so in Germany.  Propaganda is also a way discrimination occurs in the US but the media as a whole has a bigger impact.

After seeing the parallels in the Topography of Terror museum, I want to be more informed about the government and their plans for the next four years.  Being black in America isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be.  People have joked that there’s going to be a revolution due to the election of Donald Trump but I believe there will be and I will take part in it.  I can’t sit around and hope everything will be okay.  There’s a call to action and I must answer.  I’m used to biting my tongue and going with the flow but I can’t anymore because my civil rights are at stake.  I will not let the freedoms Jesse didn’t have growing up be taken away.  I will fight using sports, the same way Jesse did.