In the event that you are trying to pinpoint in your mind the things you should remember about Avery Brundage, the strong-faced gentleman pictured on the opposite page, he is the black villain who, in his 24-year reign as president of the U.S. Olympic Association, threw Swimmer Eleanor Holm off the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in midocean for sipping champagne, who cold-heartedly took a new automobile away from the pretty Canadian figure skater, Barbara Ann Scott, who ruthlessly declared Jesse Owens a professional, who peremptorily suspended Babe Didrikson, who publicly chastised Charley Paddock, who refused to allow European countries to reimburse their athletes for the regular salaries they lost when they were away from their jobs competing at the Olympic Games. You may have heard him described as Slavery Avery, a man with a discus where his heart should be, or as a man who looks comfortable in a high, stiff collar, or as a man wearing a slightly stuffed shirt.
Whatever you've heard or read over the years about Avery Brundage, the chances are excellent that your present opinion of him is not one of unabashed adoration and that your emotional reaction to the sight of his picture or the sound of his name does not, by a goodly margin, come up to the level of even mild affection. In short, Avery Brundage is not very, very popular.
"I am aware of this," Brundage said recently in Chicago, "but I am not greatly disturbed by it."
The implacable Mr. Brundage, who is now the most powerful man in sport, in 1952 became president of the International Olympic Committee, a position which actually has no counterpart in the world but would be roughly analagous to that of president of the United Nations, if there were such a powerful office in the U.N., and if the U.N. exercised absolute power over world affairs.
January 30, 1956
He was sitting sideways to his desk, looking out the window of his 18th floor office in the La Salle Hotel, his hands comfortably clasped over his abdomen, his thumbs tapping noiselessly together.
Abruptly, he spun his brown-leather swivel chair back to his broad, leather-inlaid desk and looked up truculently, his lips pursed.
"Why should I be?" he demanded. "A newspaperman wakes up in the morning with a headache—" He paused, lowered his head slightly and looked out over the top of his glasses, his lips relaxing into a small, amused smile. "Or a hangover." He paused again, to let that sink in, and then went on: "and he has a story to write. What's easier to write than a story about something that so-and-so Avery Brundage has done?"
He turned again to the window, but as he did he waved his immense hand at a stack of scrapbooks piled haphazardly on his desk and at others on a nearby table and still others in disarray on the floor.
"All those things are there. But there are other things, too. Things that mean something to a man. The opinions of people whose opinions he respects. Here."
He arose and came around the desk, a big man, big through the chest, big through the shoulders, a big head, a big jaw, big hands, big fingers. And yet he moved lightly and gracefully, like an athlete, not at all the way a man of 68 is supposed to move.
"Here," he said, opening a scrap-book. He peered at the book, turning the pages slowly. "Here." His heavy fingers thudded on a letter of praise from an Olympic Committeeman. "Here." They thudded again on a citation from the city of Santa Barbara, California—where Brundage has a home—for "outstanding civic contribution," and again on an award from Northwestern University for "a lifetime of distinguished service."
There were newspaper clippings, too. His fingers tapped one from the Chicago Sun headed: BRUNDAGE TAKES IT—FOR NOTHING, TOO! CHIEF ABUSED BUT SELDOM WRONG, and another, a column by the veteran Detroit News sportswriter, H. G. Salsinger, praising Brundage, and another, by the Scripps-Howard sports editor, Joe Williams, headed: WHAT'S THIS? A KIND WORD FOR BRUNDAGE!
He continued to flip slowly through the scrapbooks, glancing briefly over each page. The clippings in the scrap-book were by no means unanimous in praise of Brundage. Many were harshly critical. One, for instance, described him as "a sanctimonious snob with a long record of asinineantics." Brundage chuckled.
"That's pretty good," he said. "Oh, I don't blame the newspaper men for writing what they do. It doesn't bother me. If your conscience is clear you don't have to worry about what people say about you."
He sat down again, folded his hands and looked out the window.
"This Eleanor Holm thing, for instance. That's usually the first thing people want to know. Why did I throw the girl off the Olympic team?"
He turned halfway around toward the desk, his arms resting on the arms of the chair, his body erect but leaning a little forward, away from the back of the chair. He gestured abruptly with his left hand.
"In the first place, I didn't throw her off the Olympic team. I didn't have the authority to. The Olympic Committee threw her off. There were 20 men on the committee, and they voted unanimously to do it. I was the chairman of the committee, and it was my duty to announce its action, which—let me make this clearly understood—I approved of 100%.
"Well. I announced the committee's decision, and the headlines shouted: 'Brundage throws Eleanor Holm off the Olympic team!' "
He stared out the window at the wintry sky over Chicago, thinking back to that heated summer 20 years earlier.
"Then they said I declared Jesse Owens a professional. Jesse is a fine man. I have the utmost respect for him. His accomplishments in the '36 Games were remarkable. But—" He spun his chair and faced the desk. "Certain tours had been arranged to take place after the Games. Groups of competitors were to travel to different countries and compete in special meets. No one had to go, though most, of course, wanted to. Jesse had agreed to go with a group that was to visit Sweden. Well. Some smart fellow in New York had a bright idea on how to make a quick bundle of money and he sent Jesse a telegram offering him $40,000 to turn professional.
"Anyone who's been around track and field for a while knows there simply isn't that much money in professional running. Jesse was advised to wait a bit and think about it. But $40,000 is a great deal of money, and Jesse was just a young fellow, so he announced that he was going to accept the offer. And he didn't go to Sweden, as he had promised. All right. He was suspended. What did the headlines say? The headlines said: 'Brundage declares Jesse Owens a professional!' "
His face was truculent again and his voice rose slightly in intensity.
"Brundage had nothing to do with it! Jesse Owens declared Jesse Owens a professional. I think it was a shame. He was a great athlete, a gentleman, a fine person. He still is. But where did he end up with that professional contract? Down in Cuba running against a racehorse!"
Brundage all but snorted as he said this, as if the idea of a great runner appearing in such a garish spectacle were almost too much to bear.
"Then the Barbara Ann Scott thing. She won the world figure-skating championship, and the people in Ottawa wanted to give her an automobile. I was in California at the time and I read the story there. I clipped it out and sent it to Europe to a friend of mine, an Olympic official. This was when 'broken time' was a very big issue, and this automobile thing tied in with my arguments about the growing tendency for amateur athletes to receive material gain for athletic success, which is against the rules. Well. He called it to the attention of the Canadian Olympic Committee and they pointed out to Miss Scott that if she accepted the automobile she'd be leaving herself wide open to charges of professionalism—which meant, of course, that she'd be ineligible for the 1948 Winter Olympics. So she returned the automobile. What happened?" Brundage lifted one arm in a gesture of resignation. " 'Brundage takes car away from Barbara Ann Scott.' "
A MATTER OF STATE
"Oh, they gave it to me that time. They even discussed it in the Canadian Parliament. But here!" He sat up straight and tapped his fingers on the desk in front of him. "Barbara Ann Scott went on to win the Olympic title for Canada the next winter. And she and her mother came over to me—there at the Games in St. Moritz—and they thanked me for helping to save her amateur standing.
"Things like that mean a good deal to a man." He jabbed a powerful arm straight out, pointing at the scrap-books. "They certainly mean more than those headlines."
The telephone rang, and Brundage, watching the flight of his argument like an archer following the flight of his arrow, ignored it for a moment. Then he sat back, turned in his chair and picked it up.
"Um?" he said.
"I did," he said.
"I did," he said again.
He put the phone down on its cradle and turned back to the desk. As he did, Miss Frances Blakely, a slender, elderly, sweet-faced woman who has been Brundage's secretary and, in effect, executive assistant for more years than she cares to specify, entered the office and put a sheaf of papers on his desk. She said mildly, "You said you wanted to see these before you left tonight."
"Um," Brundage said. He didn't seem happy about the idea.
Miss Blakely paused at the door on her way out.
"Did you make that call?" she asked.
Brundage frowned at the papers.
"I did," he said shortly, without looking up.
Miss Blakely smiled and left.
Brundage studied the papers for a few minutes and then placed them to one side on the desk, which was already piled high with notes and correspondence. He runs his business enterprises from this office, as well as the affairs of the International Olympic Committee, though in recent months, right up to his departure last week for the Winter Games in Italy, his Olympic duties almost certainly took up more of his time than business did.
Brundage is a genuine, original, 14-carat Self-made Millionaire. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1909 with a degree in civil engineering, started his own construction company a few years later and was amazingly successful, partly because of a nicely timed combination of Brundage zeal and energy with post-World War I building boom. He constructed dozens of important buildings in Chicago and elsewhere. Today, he has interests in various business enterprises, including the Montecito Country Club in Santa Barbara and a number of hotels, including the La Salle. (When Brundage was asked if he owned the La Salle, he replied slowly, "No. A corporation owns it." Then he added cheerfully, "But I own the corporation.")
His three-room office is a jumble of apparently unrelated objects that have as their common denominator his interest in them. There are, throughout the three rooms but particularly in Brundage's own office—on the floor, on tables, on shelves and in cabinets—myriad objects of Oriental art: jades and ancient Chinese bronzes, statues of many-armed Indian gods and goddesses, examples of fine lacquer work, large urns and vases of delicately painted china. Brundage has always been fascinated by Greek and Oriental philosophy and religion, and he extended his interest to Oriental art at about the time of his marriage, in 1927. He is said now to possess one of the finest private collections in the world. Two rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, of which Brundage is a trustee, contain part of his collection.
BRUNDAGE THE ATHLETE
There are also Olympic posters throughout the office and books on the Olympic Games, pamphlets and booklets on amateur sports, a color photograph of Emil Zatopek leading the field into the home stretch of the 1952 Olympic 5,000-meter run, one of the most memorable races of all time, and medals, plaques, trophies and other souvenirs of his own career in athletics, both as official and competitor. Brundage was a superb athlete in his youth and three times won the U.S. National Ail-Around championship, a competition that is a sort of older, stronger brother to the more popular decathlon. It comprises 10 separate events, like the decathlon, but the 10 events are run off one after the other on the same day, rather than being sensibly scheduled over two successive days, as in the decathlon. Moreover, the list of events is slightly different and considerably more demanding; instead of tossing the discus and the javelin, All-Around competitors wrestle with the 56-pound weight and the 16-pound hammer. In place of the 400-meter sprint, the All-Around has the grueling 880-yard heel-and-toe walk. Brundage with bitter pride once described the latter event as "the closest a man can come to experiencing the pangs of childbirth."
Although his forte was his strength and his almost inhuman endurance—he could take the physical punishment of the All-Around then almost as well as he takes the verbal punishment of his critics now—Brundage was also a beautifully coordinated athlete. A scrapbook in his office yielded a striking testament to this in a yellowed clipping in which Daniel J. Ferris, secretary-treasurer of the Amateur Athletic Union, discussed the great athletes of his experience. Ferris grouped Brundage with Martin Sheridan, the hero of the famed Irish-American A.C., and the legendary Jim Thorpe, which is compliment enough, but then added the comment that, all things considered, he had to say that Avery Brundage was the greatest athlete he had ever seen.
When this clipping was pointed out to Brundage, he read it, smiled and said, "Umm. Good for Dan."
Then he beamed and looked through a few more pages of the old book.
"I've forgotten about these scrap-books. I haven't looked into most of them in years. The only reason they're out now is that we're trying to reorganize things. We've been digging things out of closets and trying to find new places to put them in."
He looked around his office in some distaste.
"This room is a mess," he apologized. "Most of this stuff—" he indicated the urns, vases and statuary on the floor, "belongs to dealers who brought it in to see if I'd be interested in buying any of it. There's a dealer coming in tomorrow, as a matter of fact. I haven't had a chance to examine it all yet. I haven't had the time. I have my business to take care of. I have the Olympics. I'm dictating letters every day to all parts of the world on questions and problems relating to the Olympics. Takes a temendous amount of time."
He picked up a paper from his desk.
"Here's a letter from Mexico. I sent out a circular letter a short time ago asking the Olympic Committees in the various countries to try to arouse interest among their artists in developing athletic trophies, to see if we could come up with something new and different and get away from this junk we have nowadays. Terrible junk, most of it."
He frowned, as if the thought of Bakelite and gilded plastic tasted bad. Then his eyebrows went up.
"Now. This ties in with the fine arts competition in the Olympics. Some people don't realize that, that the fine arts are on the Olympic program. Well, they are: literature, music, architecture, painting, sculpture. We used to have actual competition in these for gold and silver and bronze medals, just as we do in the athletic events. But we found it's almost impossible to limit entries to amateurs in these fields so now we have exhibitions, instead of competitions.
"Some people wonder why fine arts should be in the Olympics. Why shouldn't they be? The Greeks had them. And sport itself is a fine art. Yes, a fine art! That race over there—"
The big arm shot out and the powerful finger pointed across the room at the photograph of the Olympic 5,000-meter run.
"That was fine art if it ever existed. A magnificent thing. And the hammer throw. The hammer throw is an event that approaches artistry. A demanding event but a thoroughly satisfying one. If I had the time I'd still be throwing the hammer. Just for the pleasure and satisfaction to be derived from it."
He stopped and gestured.
"Now. This is important. We come to the meaning of the word amateur."
He brought his broad hand down flat and heavy on the table.
"If there is one thing that annoys me, it is the misuse of the word amateur as a synonym for beginner, for someone who is not well equipped or fully trained. The word doesn't mean that! Go to etymology. Go back to the origin of the word. What does it mean? It means one who loves, one who has a devotion to. An amateur athlete is one who loves sport."
He poked a finger down on the desk.
"All right. You say, can't a professional athlete love sport? Certainly. I'm sure that Babe Ruth was an amateur at heart. He would have played baseball if he had never made a dime from it. Certainly. He loved the game. I think Henry Ford was an amateur. I think Thomas Edison was an amateur. They loved what they were doing. They were amateurs."
He frowned and said, almost to himself, "Of course, under our rules they'd be considered professionals."
He waved his arm and went on.
"But you take most professional athletes. They keep themselves in excellent shape and they work at their jobs. Why? They have to!"
He paused for dramatic effect.
"Well, now. An amateur doesn't have to, but he does anyway. Why? Why should he punish himself and make the sacrifices every great athlete has to make? Because he loves to play. He wants to win and he plays to win because it's fun to win, but if he loses he congratulates the winner and tries harder the next time. And even when he loses he's gained something valuable from the experience. But the professional? The professional plays to win because he's got to win! He can't afford to lose. If he loses it hurts his income."
In triumph Brundage lifted both hands high, like a man conducting a symphony.
"And there's the difference! Right there. As soon as you take money for playing a sport, it isn't a sport, it's work. Sport is fun, recreation, a pastime, an amusement. As soon as there is pay connected with it, it's work. It's a job. I suspect that if a professional baseball player discovered one day that he could make more money by going back home and laying bricks for a living, he'd go back home and lay bricks.
"I've got nothing against professional sport. It has a legitimate place in our social and economic structure. It's fun to watch. But I think it's significant that the professionals know that it's good business to keep the amateur spirit in their sports. Oh, I know about the Black Sox scandal and all that. But that's nothing. Bankers abscond occasionally, but that doesn't mean you should abolish banking. No, I have nothing against professional sport. Except that I want it clearly understood for what it is: a business, not a sport.
"That's what has happened to college football. They've ruined a fine sport by turning it into a business. Think of all the schools who have had to drop football because they couldn't afford it. It's a business."
He glared across his desk.
"A wonderful sport, but it's been turned into a chess game played by coaches. If I had my way I'd send all the coaches to Timbuktu on the day of the game. Let the boys play on their own. That's what sport is all about."
Brundage's face was gloomy.
"That is one of the saddest chapters in the history of sport, this misuse of sport for commercial purposes in the United States. The fault lies with the schools; the educators. In the early days educators were brought up in a cloistered, old-fashioned, medieval, semi-religious atmosphere in which physical activity was considered frivolous. Well, when sport caught the imagination of the student, the educators naturally frowned on it. Most of them still do."
He spun back and forth in his chair, restless and angry.
"Robert Hutchins, when he was president of the University of Chicago, said that whenever he felt the urge to exercise he lay down until it went away. Well, there you are. That's an illustration of the contempt for sports felt in certain highbrow circles."
He whipped the chair back to the desk and poked his finger out.
"Now. When sport had become so popular with students that the educators were obliged to accept it, what did they do? They relegated it to a minor role, and left it in the hands of the students and outsiders. And by outsiders I mean people who are not considered educators.
"Well. That was a tragedy, that this potent force wasn't harnessed for education purposes. I say that at certain times in life physical education is as important as—if not more important than—mental education. But. What happens? The athletic department is left to shift for itself. Why? It isn't considered important."
BETTER THAN A CLASSROOM
Brundage stabbed the fingers of his right hand into the palm of his left hand to emphasize his argument.
"The educators ignore the social...educational...aesthetic...moral...artistic...and spiritual aspects of sport. And yet here is an opportunity to develop a man's inner worth, a man's character, that cannot be equaled in any classroom."
Abruptly he sat back, spun the chair and looked out at the darkening sky over Chicago. When he spoke again, it was in a quiet voice.
"I think," he said, looking out the window, "that every educational institution should give a course in amateurism along with its athletic program. Teach the principles of fair play and sportsmanship. Show how they can be applied in business, in politics, in government, in everyday living."
He turned his gaze from the window and looked across the room to the Olympic poster on the far wall.
"Think," he said, almost in wonder, "of the beneficial effect it could have on the world."
BRUNDAGE PUT GRIM-JAWED EFFORT INTO HALF-MILE WALK, SHOTPUT, EIGHT OTHER EVENTS TO WIN U.S. ALL-AROUND TITLE THREE TIMES
NEXT WEEK: PART II
THE GREEKS AND THE REDS
Avery Brundage talks about the Olympic Games and the ideals behind them and gives his views on the Soviet's "subsidized" athletes