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CHAMPION OF THE OLYMPICS, SANS SOCCER

Jonah J. “Bud” Greenspan, whose soaring documentaries lifted the Olympic Games to near-mythical status for a generation of Americans, died in New York City at age 84. 

Greenspan began his filmmaking career in 1952 with a 15-minute feature on a U.S. gold medalist in weightlifting and went on to win a long string of honors for his work, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America and a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service.”   He collected his first Emmy for The Olympiad, a 22-hour documentary featuring Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin that debuted in 1976 and was aired in 80 countries.

In 1985, in presenting Greenspan the Olympic Order award, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch proclaimed, “Mr. Greenspan has been called the foremost producer, writer and director of Olympic films; more than that, he is an everlasting friend of the Olympic family.”  [December 25]

Comment:  No one individual not connected with a major American television network deserves more credit than Greenspan for planting the irresistable falsehood in the United States that the Olympics are the be-all and end-all in international sport.  Combine Greenspan’s well-crafted documentaries with the power of ABC Sports and, later, NBC Sports, and it was made clear to Americans that nothing in sports can stop traffic in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, London, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Rome, Madrid, Mexico City, Seoul, Tehran, etc., etc., etc., like an Olympics (a winter Olympics included). 

Greenspan had no time for the money-spinner of every summer Olympics, the soccer tournament.  He had no interest in the filled stadiums and compelling story lines offered by Olympic soccer, so thanks to him and Roone Arledge of ABC and, later, Dick Ebersol of NBC, about a quarter century of quality soccer exposure in the U.S. was lost.  That is why today there remains a whole host of Americans with a slight relationship with soccer who still believe it would be much, much more noteworthy for USA men or women to win an Olympic gold in soccer than capture a World Cup.

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