Monday, June 23, 2008

Morgan Tsvangirai and Jesse Owens

Listening to the news this morning I was reminded of a story my dad told me. (I don’t know how much of the story as I remember it is fact, but if not, think of it as a parable.) The story was about Jesse Owens in the long jump at the 1936 Olympics. The Olympics were held in Germany during the Nazi regime and were intended as a showcase of Hitler’s “master race” – blond haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned Aryans. It was therefore somewhat inconvenient when a black American called Jesse Owens won gold medals in both the 100m and 200m.

Later in the games Owens was competing for a third medal in the long jump, an event for which he held the world record. In qualifying, he had three jumps to reach the final. His first jump was ruled a foul – unfairly, Owens felt. The second jump was also ruled a foul. Owens scented a conspiracy. One more foul and he was out. So what did he do?

He took his third jump and took off from two feet behind the line. Everyone in the stadium could see that it was a fair jump, and there was no way he could be disqualified. He reached the final and won a third gold medal. Later he added a fourth in the relay.

It was his decision in that third jump that was the point of the story. In danger of being cheated, Owens didn’t cry foul or argue the case. He simply accepted that in order to compete alongside everyone else and beat the cheats, he was going to have to jump two feet further than anyone else. That’s why my dad told me the story: to inspire me that I too could overcome an unequal situation by working harder and being that much better.

That’s what I was reminded of when I heard on the news this morning that Morgan Tsvangirai had pulled out of the election in Zimbabwe. The decision means that he and the people of Zimbabwe will not be able to conjure up a Jesse Owens moment and vote Robert Mugabe out of office, despite intimidation and harassment, despite the election begin rigged and unconstitutional.

Now I know it’s not a fair comparison. I have no idea what things are really like in Zimbabwe, and I have to believe that Morgan Tsvangirai has made the best decision he could under the circumstances. But when it's possible, isn't the Jesse Owens way better?


Post a Comment

<< Home