Bad Guy Spotlight: Avery Brundage

Bad Guy Spotlight: I present Avery Brundage.

Usually, when I look at history, I wind up finding the story of some cool individual who did a neat thing. But occasionally, I discover that a single non-famous person was deeply involved in a whole bunch of despicable things. Today, that person is Avery Brundage, a philandering white male engineer from the urban midwest who did the following through his long relationship with the IOC.

1. Convinced the U.S. not to boycott the Berlin Olympics (aka the Hitler Olympics) because gosh don’t spoil the Olympics, the Nazis seem totally committed to Olympic ideals based on my fact-finding mission.

2. Was a total jerk to Jim Thorpe, one of the most impressive American athletes of all time, who also happened to be Native American and also happened to have his medals yanked for something that did not disqualify plenty of white athletes. Avery Brundage didn’t pull the medals himself but thought it was the right thing to do and refused to even consider reversing it, despite decades of people saying “reverse this, please.”

3. While Germany was partitioned into East and West Germany, Brundage treated their athletes as one team until 1968 and patted himself on the back for being above politics. WTF.

4. Didn’t have a problem with Soviets compensating athletes but definitely was still not going to reconsider blacklisting Jim Thorpe and Jesse Owens.

5. Refused to ban South Africa for its apartheid policies. Big outcry in 1960 right after the Sharpsville massacre, where police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters and killed around 70 people. No, South Africa should come! The healing joys of sport! South Africa skipped 1964. Brundage begged them to come back in 1968, when they were totally willing to stay away. Brundage only backed down after a ton of other countries said they’d boycott.

6. Also tried to get Rhodesia included (another white-minority-ruled country), same thing. Tried again four years later.

6. So of course when Tommy Smith and John Carolos raised their arms in a black power salute on the podium, Brundage made them leave Mexico City or else he was going to expel the entire US team from the rest of the games.

7. In Munich, when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were held hostage and then murdered, did not interrupt or delay the games at all. (You could hear people cheering in the background of some of the news coverage of the hostage standoff.) Instead he for some reason complained about how the real crime was the continued non-inclusion of Rhodesia.

Turns out a disproportionate amount of the time I’ve been hating on the International Olympic Committee as a whole, I was really hating on Avery Brundage. I talk a lot about the difference one person can make. This is the villain version.

Fortunately, he’s dead now. Died before I was born.

But he’s on my Emeritus Enemies List.

I ever invent a time machine, I’m coming for you.


Sonya says: You know, any one of those items would have been sufficient for purposes of racist asshattery. Seven was just overachieving.

Romie: It’s almost as though people aren’t racist in one-off isolation, and often continue to make racist decisions for decades and decades until they’re not in power any more; or as if past racist history might predict future behavior, particularly absent any kind of apology or public expression of regret.

Sonya: Oh, come on. Next you’re going to tell me his case has wider applicability to society and its institutions!

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