Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Haunting lesson of Nazi Olympics

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri August 9, 2013
Protesters rally against Russia's anti-gay laws and President Vladimir Putin's stand on gay rights last week in New York.
Protesters rally against Russia's anti-gay laws and President Vladimir Putin's stand on gay rights last week in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two Jewish sprinters from U.S. kept from running in Nazi Germany in 1936 Olympics
  • LZ Granderson: The 2014 Olympics taking place in Russia with its extreme anti-gay laws
  • In Russia, LGBT teens reportedly being kidnapped, bullied, even killed, he says
  • All of Congress should sign letter for Russia to ensure LGBT Americans' safety, he says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor who writes a weekly column for CNN.com. The former Hechinger Institute Fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is also a senior writer for ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- Usually when we talk about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin we focus on two men -- Adolf Hitler and Jesse Owens -- and rightfully so. They are the two with an undeniable impact on history, albeit in vastly different ways.

But in light of President Barack Obama's recent remarks on "The Tonight Show" denouncing Russia's new anti-gay laws, laws that have led to bloodshed in the streets, it is important that we remember Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller.

They too were at those games. They too left a mark.

You see, the day before they were scheduled to run in the 400-meter relay, their coach, Dean Cromwell, replaced them.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

They were not injured.

They did not break any team rules nor were they disqualified for any violations.

They were, however, Jewish, and this was Nazi Germany, which had adopted the Nuremberg laws limiting Jewish citizens' rights a year earlier. Apparently, Cromwell, along with leaders from the U.S. Olympic Committee, decided it would be best if Glickman and Stoller did not compete.

At the time I'm sure it seemed like a decision that would only hurt the two men. After all, the 400, led by Owens, still won gold.

Today we know better.

Athletes: Sochi boycott not the answer
Obama: Russia must respect gay rights
Olympians jeer Russia's anti-gay law

Today we look at that decision and lower our heads in shame, understanding that it made us complicit with something that evolved into a far worse crime than unjustly replacing a pair of sprinters. In the moment when we should have spoken up, we remained silent.

And so here we are again: an Olympics on the horizon, another host country with recently legislated laws persecuting a group of people, and for a while, we were silent. And then Tuesday happened.

"I've been very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country," Obama said, going on to talk about how Russia's treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people goes against the spirit of the Olympics.

He did not call for a boycott.

But on Wednesday he canceled a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin planned for September. The White House cited Russia's decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and "lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control" among other reasons. But it also mentioned human rights issues.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter from 88 members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats -- urging him to do something to guarantee the safety of LGBT Americans visiting Russia during that time. That leaves 447 lawmakers we should be asking why they did not sign that letter.

Last month Buzzfeed provided the world photos of LGBT people being violently beaten by anti-gay protesters and police in Russia.

There are reports of LGBT teens being kidnapped, bullied, tortured and killed.

Russian officials have said they don't condone the attacks, but police have stood by while they happened and then arrested the battered victims for being gay. And because it is unclear whether or not the anti-gay laws will be enforced during the Olympics, the safety of all Americans -- because you can be arrested if police think you look gay or even if you support gays -- is in question.

Which brings me to: Why aren't the names of all 535 members of Congress on that letter?

In talking about the 1936 Olympics, I do not equate what is happening in Russia to what happened to Jewish people during World War II. I just want to remind you that the Holocaust did not happen overnight. It was subtle.

Surgical.

In silence.

These new anti-gay laws are disturbingly similar to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws Hitler passed before the 1936 Olympics. And with the Pew Institute finding 84% of Russians believe society should reject gay people, perhaps some saying they object to gays for fear of arrest, the world should question how far Russia intends to go.

We should question how far Russia, our lukewarm ally, intends to go and what our participation in the 2014 Olympic Games will look like generations from now.

In one of his final interviews before passing away in 2001, Glickman told the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage that there had been some talk of boycotting the 1936 Olympics because of Hitler, but no one foresaw what would happen to the Jews a short time later.

"There is no way in the world that I would think of going to Nazi Germany," he said. "The Holocaust and those things around Nazi Germany which we all loathe weren't in existence in 1936."

No one can predict the future. But this week Obama showed he learned an important lesson from our Olympic past -- offering silence to appease evil is a senseless endeavor because evil will never be satisfied. Now it's our turn to speak up. There are 447 members of Congress who have yet to sign that letter to Kerry -- we need to be asking why.

Photos: Wrecking homes for an Olympic highway

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT