Avery Brundage was one of the finest athletes this country has produced. Only his timing was off—in Stockholm in 1912 he competed on the same Olympic team as Jim Thorpe and in the same events, the decathlon and pentathlon. Though Brundage's efforts were respectably close to Thorpe's, they were largely ignored because of Thorpe's presence. Subsequently, Brundage won three U.S. titles in what was called the all-around championship, an event like the decathlon but more demanding because it was contested in a single afternoon. Brundage competed in multi-event sports into his early 30s, and he was also one of the 10 best handball players in the country into his 40s. During this period he was nurturing his engineering, construction and real estate firms. They operated chiefly in Chicago, where his energy, efficiency and commendable business ethics earned him civic respect as well as a huge private fortune. Elected a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1936, he rose rapidly in its hierarchy and became president, a position he held for 20 years, 1952-72. During that span Brundage was almost invariably—and accurately—described as "the most powerful man in sport."
He was also a bigot, a womanizer and a monumental hypocrite. While married to his first wife, he fathered two illegitimate sons. He refused to acknowledge the boys publicly, bound them to secrecy regarding their relationship to him, rarely saw them and didn't leave them a dime in his will. In addition, he rarely attributed to those who seriously disagreed with him any but the basest of motives.
Even these quick glimpses of the two faces of Brundage should indicate the difficulty of writing a bad book—or a dull one—about the man. And professor Allen Guttmann has done neither in his The Games Must Go On: Avery Brundage and the Olympic Movement (Columbia University Press, $24.95), though as a work of scholarship and restraint, it isn't always compelling reading. Guttmann is a professor of American studies at Amherst College and the author and translator of other books on sport, most notably Bero Rigauer's Sport and Work (1981); with support from Amherst and the Guggenheim Foundation he was able to spend a year traveling to complete his research for The Games. There's plenty of evidence of a year well spent as well as of the book's academic origins. It includes 31 pages of notes in addition to the 261 pages of text, and scarcely a sentence of any import is allowed to stand without reference to its source.
Guttmann's dispassion, his reluctance to speculate or emphasize, makes some portions of the book less readable than they might be. For example, he attributes many of Brundage's less desirable traits—his secrecy, his bigotry, his transparent hypocrisy—to his zeal for furthering the cause of the Olympic "religion." Several Brundage confidants suggest that his concealment of his bastard sons and extensive philandering, while he endlessly preached moral purity and fair play, stemmed from a belief that exposure of his sexual activities would critically damage the Olympic movement. The fact is that in the years when his sons were born, 1951 and 1952, Brundage was running for the presidency of the IOC, a discordant coincidence that Guttmann, fair in all instances, doesn't fail to mention.
January 16, 1984
In documenting Brundage's career, Guttmann has also written an excellent, concise history of the Olympic movement from 1890 to 1972. Many difficult issues filled Brundage's years, including:
•Amateurism and so-called "broken-time" payments to athletes. This issue probably revealed Brundage at his stubborn best, though also at his most caustic regarding the motives of others.
•Women in sport. Measured against the Neanderthal views of many of his colleagues, Brundage's attitudes put him on the side of the angels, though when the Games got too big, in his opinion, he was tempted to cut women's events.
•The Winter Olympics. If he'd thought he could succeed, Brundage probably would have fought to kill them forever, if only because of the difficulty of attaining even the appearance of amateurism among the likes of skiers who were receiving large sums to use certain brands of equipment.
On these and many other subjects Guttmann's treatment is first-rate. His book will be a basic source work for a long time to come.