Milton Green was one of the better track-and-field athletes of his day. Born in Lowell, Mass. in 1913, he was the world-record holder in the 45-yard high hurdles and the 60-meter high hurdles. Green was the captain of the Harvard University track team and finished first in the 110-meter high hurdles in the regional trials leading up to the 1936 Olympics.
Despite qualifying for the final Olympic trials and being considered among the favorites for gold in Berlin, Green decided to boycott the games after a conversation with his rabbi. With the Games being held in the heart of Nazi Germany, Green made the difficult choice to stay home as a form of protest.
Green never had a chance to participate in another Olympics, as the 1940 and 1944 Games were canceled due to World War II. He died in 2005 with zero regrets about his decision. In an interview transcribed by the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Green spoke of the boycott that he and Harvard teammate Norman Cahners — both Jews — undertook:
They suggested that it might be a good idea for us not to go to the Olympics because of all these problems, and to sort of register our objections and sort of boycotting the Olympics. And we were quite taken aback about that thought. They tried to explain to us that we would never regret it if we did take that action to boycott the Olympics. And that meeting really turned us around, because we were horrified at the terrible things that were going on in Germany. Both Cahners and I decided that we would boycott the Olympics. We just felt it was the right thing to do.
After we boycotted the Olympics, no one came to speak to us or ask us if we’d make any statements about it. And I don’t think anyone knew particularly that we did boycott it.
A boycott can be an effective measure in certain situations (the NHL lockout not being one of them), but as Green and Cahners learned in 1936, people weren’t exactly beating down their doors to get them to tell their stories of self-sacrifice for a worthy cause. The United States didn’t declare war on Germany for another five years, and it had nothing to do with an Olympic boycott. When a person wants to affect change through something as massive and powerful as the Olympics, history shows boycotting is like turning off your air conditioner for an hour to reverse the effects of global warming.
Almost 80 years later, a boycott of the Olympics in Sochi is a real possibility for participating athletes. Russia has recently passed harsh, discriminatory laws against homosexuals and anyone openly supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender human beings, causing some to wonder how anyone could participate in an Olympics being held in a country that clearly cares so little about human rights.
In 2014, if an athlete wants to publicly take a stand against Vladimir Putin’s laws, a boycott isn’t the best course of action. With 24-hour news cycles, an athlete announcing a boycott days before the Games would be a huge story. It would be a bombshell. That is, until the next Obama thing or trial thing or royal baby thing or athlete on steroids thing or Tebow thing pushes it out of everyone’s minds for good.
The smarter option, the option that would require immense bravery, would be for any athlete who truly objects to what is happening in Russia to show up and use their fame and power to voice their displeasure to the throngs of media at every opportunity.
No one is saying that every NHL player who shows in Sochi needs to take a stand. Sidney Crosby is under no obligation to exit the plane, walk down the stairs, sidle up to a podium and launch into a well-reasoned argument about gay rights on a global scale. If Crosby has no passionate feelings on the subject, hey, that’s his decision. Best of luck getting Team Canada to the medal round with that goaltending and enjoy your stay in Sochi. All the best. No hard feelings.
But if Crosby or any athlete is sickened by what’s happening in Russia, he or she can do more good in Sochi than he or she can from their homes while not giving up a (mostly) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And make no mistake — there will be a journalist over there willing to ask the question. Every athlete should be ready for it
Of course, there is tremendous risk involved. Putin not only enacted a law that prevents gay couples from adopting children, but foreign visitors can be imprisoned for up to 14 days for being gay or openly supporting gay people. It’s easy to say a hockey player can simply discuss how he’d welcome a gay teammate during a post-practice interview as form of protest and a way to raise awareness, but when two weeks of prison and expulsion from the country loom, it’s a dicey proposition.
It all comes down to how passionately an individual feels about the cause. Does Henrik Lundqvist, a supporter of You Can Play, want to make his voice heard in Sochi? Is he willing to wager that Russian authorities wouldn’t have the courage to arrest him for speaking his mind? What would go further in the minds of vilified LGBT people across the world desperate for support – Lundqvist staying home or Lundqvist walking through the opening ceremonies with a rainbow flag?
Excuse the Hallmark sentiment, but one athlete can change the course of history. It’s not as if Jack Johnson wearing a You Can Play sweatshirt or Patrick Sharp calling Putin an oppressive tyrant or a player announcing he is gay is going to result in a Russian uprising. Would it be amazing if Team USA took to the ice for warmups during round robin play in rainbow jerseys? Absolutely. It would be historic.
Sure, it probably boils down to being on par with throwing away your air conditioner in the presence of a lot of people as a stance against global warming, but hey, every little bit helps.
“Should NHL players boycott the Olympics?” will be a question asked a lot between now and February 2014. But it’s important to not lose sight of the fact the NHL players are people, unique individuals, not a hive mind where everyone thinks the same way on social issues. There’s nothing wrong with a boycott. It should be lauded if someone goes that route. But it comes down to the individual athlete and what they feel is the proper way to handle the situation. No one should feel forced into doing something, into risking their safety for a cause. They’re the ones that will have to live with their actions, or inactions, for the rest of their lives.
Green boycotted the 1936 Olympics and never regretted it. If there are NHL players who feel as passionately as Green did 80 years ago, it’s up to them and no one else to decide if and how they want to make their voices heard.
Five letters: Why are you so dumb, Dave Lozo?
I noticed on Twitter you talking a lot of s*it about how Team Canada isn’t going to win a medal at the Olympics. I want to call you a f**king idiot, but that would demean people who are idiots. Canada has the best players in the world and you’d have to be blind to not see that. TEAM USA wins gold? I can’t believe you’re allowed to drive a car. I hope you die in a fire. You shouldn’t be allowed to write on a sports web site. F**k you.
It’s always great to come in contact with a fan of mine, so thanks for the letter, Keith.
I don’t see a true question in here, but I’ll go ahead and answer this letter anyway. I’d like to first back off a bit on my prediction of American gold. I made it with the belief that Jack Johnson wasn’t going to be an integral part of the club. Then I read Tuesday that he’s being considered for the role of captain, so that hurts. His dedication to the program is nice, but how much of it has to do with his NHL teams never getting out of the first round? A lot of it, for sure. He’s not very good.
But yes, I am making the prediction that Canada does not medal. I don’t think it’s going to be Torino when Canada finished seventh, but I think USA, Sweden, Russia (only because it is on home soil) and even Finland are superior teams.
While it’s just one man’s opinion, Canada 2014 is demonstrably worse than Canada 2010. With that as the leaping-off point, the superior 2010 team won gold on home ice by the slimmest margins thanks largely to a referee being out of position on the winning goal. The team Canada beat, the glorious United States of America, is markedly improved over the past four years. Based on that flawless logic, Canada isn’t even the best team in North America right now.
Of course, the Canadian goaltending is hilariously bad. There’s no point in expounding on that because it’s obvious to everyone not looking at the roster through maple-syrup-covered glasses.
The past two times Canada has left North America, they finished fourth in Nagano in 1998 and seventh in Torino in 2006. Past performances by players no longer on the team don’t have much of a bearing on what will happen in 2014, but it’s a good indicator of how hard it is to win the further you get from home.
But what about the last four world championships, when Canada has failed to medal at the tournaments in Germany, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden? Yeah, the best of the best aren’t there – Jack Johnson is – but again, if you’re going to speculate about how well a Canadian B team would do in the Olympics, it’s worth noting that Canadian B teams can’t beat other countries’ B teams on foreign soil right now.
So there you have it. An airtight argument as to why Canada isn’t winning a medal in Sochi. Keith, it was a pleasure.
Do you miss getting to spend a day with the Stanley Cup as a reporter? You did with the Los Angeles Kings last year and it was awesome.
Weirdly, I do. It’s one of the more unique things you can cover as a reporter and if you can get the access to it, I would recommend wholeheartedly doing it.
When you cover a hockey game, it’s pretty meat and potatoes most of the time. Five or six goals are scored, a fight happens, players talk about the goals and fight, you write a story. Even when you write a flowery feature about a player’s commitment to being a two-way player or a recovery from injury or a in-depth look at a team’s struggles, you know what you’re getting for the most part going in. There are no real surprises.
But Cup days are crazy. You’re in a town you’ve never been to – last summer, it was Ithaca, NY with Dustin Brown and London, Ont., with Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter – and your day gets started at about 7 a.m. and ends at about 8 p.m. There are events planned throughout the day where the player brings the Cup to his old school, old rink, a landmark in town, and you never know what to expect.
You get to talk to family members, old coaches, lifelong friends, and the stories you get are always interesting. And it’s always just little things, like hearing an in-depth story from Carter’s buddy about a line brawl Carter started in junior, or getting to meet one of Brown’s coach’s who became paralyzed during a pick-up game. The players themselves are far less guarded and more human in their answers with minimal media around.
It’s one of those days where when it goes well, you’re exhausted at the end of it and you feel like you did something worthwhile. My access was a little different having done it for the NHL itself, but it’s still great if you can cover it. You should do it.
How many games do the Devils win next season? 15 or less than 15?
Geez. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s terrible. The Devils’ top-six forwards are Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Adam Henrique, Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder. That Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier line is still pretty good, and scraping together another line involving Andrei Loktionov and Jacob Josefson is interesting.
The Devils’ six defensemen, for the most part, were good enough to get them to a Stanley Cup Final in 2012, and Martin Brodeur/Cory Schneider is a formidable goaltending duo.
The Me…the Metr….the….I can’t bring myself to say it. The division in which the Devils play also seems to be wide-open. The division houses the Pittsburgh Penguins and seven teams that could be anything from terrible to good.
It all comes down to how Pete DeBoer gets everyone to mesh. I didn’t think I’d be saying this a month ago, but I think the Devils will find a way to make the playoffs.
Recently I was eating dinner in my dining hall and I saw a guy crumble pretzels and put them on his sandwich. I thought this was weird, but then I saw another girl put potato chips on her sandwich. Where do we draw the line on this in society? Aren’t we soiling the sanctity of sandwiches with this abomination of crumbled snack foods?
Are you an exchange student? Did you recently transfer in from, I don’t know, the worst place on Earth? Who are you to cast judgment on how people consume their sandwiches?
Where do I begin? The first rule of eating a sandwich is there are no rules. Except no mayo. If you like mayo on your sandwich, you’re probably a sickie who likes having his toes sucked and watching mannequins get undressed. But the second rule is there are no other rules besides the mayo one. If someone likes putting Oreos on a grilled chicken sandwich, you let them do it.
Admittedly, the first time I saw someone put plain Wise potato chips on a sandwich, I didn’t understand it. But all new things are scary until you try them. If you’re not putting salt and vinegar chips on a turkey sandwich, my friend, you just aren’t living your life to the fullest.
You said that you grew up a Devils fan, but your job with the NHL has made you “sports dead inside”. Is this the same in most departments at the NHL offices? Or does becoming “sports dead inside” mostly apply to individuals who regularly interact with team players and personnel? Also, I think it’s about time that you are listed under the Contributors section on the blog.
I don’t know if I deserve that. I contribute once a week. I’m the Nikolai Zherdev of this blog.
To be clear, I’m only hockey dead inside. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing with life over the next few months, but I fear taking a job covering the New York Giants. They are my strongest irrational love and I really don’t want to lose it. Also, I benefited from getting thrown into covering a team I grew up hating, so in the early going, I was extra cautious about all that. Eventually you get to know people on a personal level and it changes things. It’s a really weird thing.
As for how covering the game affects other people, I can’t say for sure how alive or dead anyone is in this regard. There are some who work inside the game that definitely still have their allegiances and there are some who I think are like me to some extent. The good ones are those who don’t let it affect their work. The real secret is no fan knows for sure how any reporter handles their business in this regard. I’ve seen the same person be accused of loving and hating a team. But if you were raised to love or hate certain teams, you have to be very self-aware and honest with yourself when you’re writing about them.
If my Devils fandom grows back, I’ll let you know. But I doubt it ever will.
(Send Dave questions via his e-mail address of email@example.com and he will answer them or maybe he won’t.)