By Scott A. Grant
mail@floridanewsline.com

On Aug. 5, 1936, in the Olympic 200 Meters finals in Berlin, a young African American named Matthew “Mack” Robinson ran a blazingly fast race. Unfortunately for Mack, another African American, named Jesse Owens, ran faster. Robinson had to settle for the silver. And to this day, almost everyone remembers Jesse Owens and almost no one remembers Mack Robinson. 

Robinson ran in the same shoes he wore at Pasadena City College. Owens ran in custom track cleats provided to him by Adolf “Adi” Dassler and his younger brother Rudolf. After the war, the brothers parted company. They each formed separate shoe companies; Adi Dassler called his company Adidas and Rudolf named his new company Puma.

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Winning an Olympic silver medal is an impressive feat. As Robinson put it, “It’s not too bad to be second best in the world at what you’re doing. That makes you better than an awful lot of people.” Still, Americans have a thing for winners and we almost never remember who finished second. It is sometimes said that the Daytona 500 has one winner and 32 losers. 

After the 1936 Olympics ended, Mack Robinson attended the University of Oregon, but never graduated. The family needed money and Robinson went to work to help his widowed mother feed her large family. He returned home and took a variety of jobs working for the city. He was often seen sweeping the streets of Pasadena in his Olympic sweatshirt.

”If anybody in Pasadena was proud of me, other than my family and close friends,” he said, ”they never showed it. I was totally ignored.” 

One person was proud of Mack Robinson’s accomplishments. Inspired by Mack’s athletic success, his younger brother followed in his footsteps and attended Pasadena City College. He then went to UCLA where he lettered in a record four sports. He left college without graduating in 1941 to play professional football for the semi-pro Honolulu Bears.

After one season as a professional football player, the younger Robinson entered World War II to fight Hitler. He was one of the first African Americans admitted to officer candidate school and was ultimately promoted to Captain. After the war, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro Baseball League. And then, in 1949 Mack’s younger brother, Jackie Robinson, broke the color barrier and became the first African American to play Major League Baseball. 

Scott A. Grant is a local historian and author. He welcomes your comments at scottg@standfastic.com

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