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August 20, 2013

‘Glickman’ is the story of 20th Century American Judaism

http://www.jewishjournal.com/hollywood/article/glickman_is_the_story_of_20th_century_american_judaism

Marty Glickman. Photo from HBO

Marty Glickman. Photo from HBO

“Glickman”, a moving documentary by James L. Freedman, premiering August 26 on HBO, is the emotional life story of Marty Glickman, a ground-breaking American sportscaster.  It is also the story of 20th Century American Judaism.

Marty Glickman was the soundtrack of every New York sports fan life for more than 40 years.  He was the voice of the New York Knicks, Giants, Jets, and even the high school game of the week.  He created modern-day basketball sports journalism, bringing the game to life with iconic phrases that popularized the game as never before.  Driving the “key”, shooting from the “baseline”, crossing the “mid-court stripe” and the larger than life “swish” to describe the game’s ultimate moment, have become legendary, even to those who never heard Glickman  broadcast a single game.  In fact, he was the announcer on more than 3000 basketball games, 1000 football games, and even four marbles tournaments. 

But Glickman was more than just a memorable voice.  His impact on generations of sports fans and journalists is carefully chronicled in this remarkable documentary.  Freedman gathers such well-known sports personalities as Marv Alpert, Bob Costas, Peter Vescey, Jim Brown and Mike Breen to talk about Glickman, not just as an influence on their own careers but as a mentor, a second father, a man who uniquely wanted his students and friends to be better than he was. 

Marty Glickman was also a proud Jew whose personal history is a microcosm of all that the American Jewish people became and overcame in the 20th Century.  Freedman effectively paints Glickman’s story through the lens of the anti-Semitism that shaped key moments in his life, both for the trauma it caused and the triumph that resulted.  The prejudice which impacted key moments of his life represented the experience of many American Jews at the time, as did his ability to rise above, his ensuing motivation to work hard to ensure that others of all races and religions were not  treated as was he, and how he dealt with the deep scars and hurts he endured. 

As an 18 year old track and field star, he was the youngest athlete to earn a spot on the historic 1936 U.S. Olympic track and field squad alongside Jessie Owens, Mack Robinson and Ralph Metcalfe.  Despite his youth he was forced to deal with subtle anti-Semitism from forces far more powerful than he ever before had encountered.  Nonetheless he was chosen to be a member of the 4x100 U.S. relay team, a foursome heavily favored to win gold.  But this was the Olympics of Adolph Hitler, whose humiliation at the historic hands (or, rather, feet) of Jessie Owens was palpable.  Glickman and his running mate, Sam Stoller, were the only Jewish athletes on the U.S. team.  Again, forces more powerful than Glickman reached out, seemingly in an effort to appease the Nazi leader, and the two Jews were replaced on the relay team by Owens and Metcalfe just hours before the start of the race.  When Owens, in all his glory, objected and insisted on having Glickman run in the spot he had rightly earned, Owens was told that the decision was not his to make and that he had no choice but to accept it. 

Years later, after climbing to the top of the sports broadcasting profession, Glickman was again replaced, this time on national television as the voice of the NBA.  Glickman, who had refused to Anglicize his name and hide his heritage, would not be allowed to be the public face of the league because it would have been perceived as “too Jewish.”  Glickman’s encounter with anti-Semitism once again robbed him of his dreams. 

Returning to Berlin forty years after the Olympics, Glickman was forced to confront the rage he had been harboring for most of his life, able to sublimate his feelings no longer.  In that Berlin stadium, decades after the US team officials had unceremoniously turned their back on him, and on Jews everywhere, Glickman’s role as the quintessential 20th Century American Jew becomes a subtle yet powerful centerpiece of Freedman’s extraordinary documentary. 

The film is punctuated by the words of his admirers, film of his exploits and skills, but most movingly by Glickman himself.  His stories of the power of sport and individual athletes to rise above and exemplify all that is right are poignantly told against the background of his own hurdles.  But to the end, Marty Glickman himself would always rise above, never without reminding us of who we are and what it means to be a proud American Jew. He triumphed as a Jew, he was outraged as a Jew, but he was concerned about prejudice in every corner of our world.  His greatest regret was not having refused to play when his African American college football teammate was victimized by Jim Crow laws and prohibited from competing in a game played below the Mason-Dixon Line.  That treatment, like his own experience in Berlin, shaped how hard he worked during his entire career to pave the path for others.

Written and directed by James L. Freedman, with Martin Scorsese as executive producer, “Glickman” chronicles more than the remarkable life of one man.  It represents all we are and everywhere we have been.

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