In August of 1931, after being grounded for nearly thirteen years for starting World War I, Germany won the bid to host the 1936 Olympics. While the nation was busy buttchugging dunkels in celebration of the games, Adolf Hitler rose to power by propagating white supremacy, antisemitism, and surprisingly decent paintings.
When he took control of Germany in 1933, Hitler viewed the upcoming Olympics as the perfect propaganda machine to spread his pro-Aryan ideology while simultaneously presenting the facade of a “peaceful, tolerant Germany” to the outside world. “You can catch more Jews with honey than with vinegar,” he would often tell his girlfriends before they literally all killed themselves. (three of his four girlfriends committed suicide; the fourth survived a suicide attempt).
Hitler spared no expense to impress on the global stage; he built multiple stadiums, several large gyms and tracks, and even commissioned a new state-of-the-art airport with bidets in the urinals. As the games drew near, he ordered German newspapers to soften their Jew bashing, had most of the anti-Jew signage in Berlin removed, and hell, the Fuhrer even loosened up their favorite excuse to beat the loafers off of local gayfers.
That’s right, in anticipation of the ‘36 Games, foreign visitors were actually granted immunity from Berlin’s notoriously strict anti-homosexuality laws. “Ok Heinrich, for the next three weeks, if one of these French queens wants to catch a buttfuck on his way to watch javelin, don’t shoot him.”
Despite his best efforts to appear open-minded, Hitler was working behind the scenes to make sure no Hebrew sweat dripped onto his new stadium floor. He banned Jewish participation in sports clubs and leagues, expelling a handful of Jewish athletes who could’ve potentially won medals for Germany.
To combat accusations of antisemitism, he allowed one token Jew onto the German team, Helene Mayer, a fencer who ended up winning a silver medal. Don’t worry, she wasn’t actually Jewish, she was just non-Aryan; this was the goddamned Olympics after all. Did you think Hitler was gonna put a real live Jew on his team? He’s fucking HITLER you idiot.
As rumors of the Nazi’s true stance on human rights began swirling, several countries debated whether they should boycott the Games. Many felt that participating in Hitler’s Olympics was akin to supporting the Nazi regime. Like many of the African-American athletes who grew up living with inequality and racism, Jesse Owens thought the pressure to boycott was hypocritical. He wasn’t about to forfeit his one shot to shine because a bunch of racists thought another racist was too racist.
As usual, the tension was greatest in America, where both sides railed against one another until the AAU ultimately voted to participate (yes, the same AAU where LeBron and D-Wade’s sons make Drake buy them beer after games). Once America opted in, the boycotts lost steam and 49 countries eventually signed up, paid rec fees, and bid their Jewish athletes one final adieu.
Adolf’s Sweet 36 Party wasn’t just the largest Olympic event in history, it also marked the first time the Games would be televised. Hitler planned to use the entire spectacle as an infomercial to showcase Nazism and to demonstrate, honest to God, how great white people were at sports.
If Germany was supposed to dominate every aspect of these Games, somebody forgot to tell Jesse Owens. The young African-American defiantly showed Hitler up on global television, won four gold medals, and single-handedly changed the old adage “White Men Can Certainly Jump!”.
If watching the Black American handily beat his handsome Hansels wasn’t enough humiliation for Hitler, Owens and German long-jumper Lutz Long shared an intense Rocky-and-Apollo style embrace in front of everyone that would’ve made Michael Sam blush.
If you’re not familiar with the story, Jesse had failed at his first two long-jump attempts and was at risk of not qualifying if he came up short on the third attempt. As the legend goes, Lutz Long, Germany’s best long-jumper approached Owens before his final attempt and gave him some advice that helped Owens correct his mistake and win the event.
After Owens won, he and Long fired the “shot hugged ‘round the world” right in front of Hitler. The two had formed a bond through respect and competition; a bond that transcended race and politics. Even though Lutz died two years later fighting in the war, Owens stayed in touch with the Long family and the two families have reportedly been close ever since.
In summary, Jesse Owens showed up to Germany, forged a lifelong connection with a German rival through the stereotype-busting power of sport, and proved once and for all that Black athletes can jump really far if a white dude tells them how.
Except that’s not what happened. Owens undoubtedly won his medals and made his point, but Germany dominated the Games and won 89 total medals (the US finished in 2nd place with 56).
Oh, and the story about Lutz Long helping Owens qualify in the long jump? Yeah, that really didn’t really happen. It’s true they hugged after Owens won the medal, but according to multiple witnesses and video footage, Long and Owens never even spoke during the competition.
Even after Owens gave Long’s son a detailed recollection of the story in the 1964 documentary “Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin”, he eventually admitted that the interaction with Lutz never happened. Why did he go along with the lie for all these years? “Those stories are what people like to hear, so you tell ‘em,” Owens told journalist/author Tom Ecker in 1965.
You probably thought this was going to be an uplifting bit of history so everyone could feel better about the current state of the world, didn’t you? Well Jesse Owens also smoked a pack a day for 35 years and died of lung cancer at age 66. 2020!!!