“Marty Glickman,” summarized James L. Freedman on the subject of his new HBO documentary, “represented the joy of sport. That’s what emanated out of his broadcasts.”
While names like Mel Allen, Red Barber and Jack Buck became more famous nationally, it’s possible that Glickman’s influence on broadcasters today exceeds those three titans, and any of the other voices who shaped the craft.
“Glickman was born too early,” said Freedman, whose Glickman: One Voice Changed The Sports World Forever debuts on HBO on Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. “He didn’t have the national presence that TV brought, that made someone like Howard Cosell so well known.”
The first athlete-turned-broadcaster (decades before Cosell would decry the “jockocracy” that brought stars from the field and into the booth), Glickman was a bona fide track star whose 1936 Berlin Olympics story isn’t exactly unknown, but is sometimes a footnote to U.S.A. teammate Jesse Owens‘ domination of the Games in the presence of Adolf Hitler.
The speedster Glickman was one of two Jewish athletes to qualify for the U.S. track & field squad. A fifth-place standing in the trials (video and photographic evidence suggests he finished third or possibly fourth) qualified him as a relay team member, but discrimination by his own coaches, perhaps in concert with USOC Chairman Avery Brundage, kept him and Sam Stoller off the track.
Glickman starred in football at Syracuse University, which led to his first radio program. Later, focusing on the sport of basketball, as no other broadcaster was taking the lead on the nascent sport, he developed the terminology all hoops fans and voices take for granted — swish, the key, the elbow, and dozens of others that turned listening to a game into the word-picture that is still the standard.
Glickman, passed over (as “too New York,” or, more likely, “too Jewish”) in favor or more Midwestern voices when the NBA earned a national contract, moved on to football as the voice of the Giants, then the Jets.
Instead of showing outward resentment at the Olympic snub, then the NBA snub, and later the Giants radio network leaving him dangling, Glickman poured that into mentoring. His true legacy is in how he passed on his knowledge to future generations.
Countless broadcasters past and present, all the way from early proteges like Curt Gowdy and Marv Albert to younger standouts like Spero Dedes and Chris Carrino, who he mentored at Fordham’s WFUV, all credit Glickman’s tutelage for their success.
“Marty was an opinionated man, in a good way, and sometimes that’s not the best thing for your career,” added Freedman, whose own first job was as a teen producing Glickman’s radio show. “He believed in telling the truth. That’s why he says he was so proud of being a Jew, and not changing his name, when everyone was changing their name, entertainers, broadcasters, that was the culture.”
Freedman captures Glickman expertly, combing, he says, through more than 100 hours of audio and video, including archival footage and interviews. But for Freedman, the more than three-year process was a true labor of love.
“I wanted to get the story down to the the thread of how something early in life keeps coming back in the film,” Freedman explained. “As his story progresses, through everything, that never goes away.”