Joe Podelco / Photo editor
As Ohio State remembers Jesse Owens’ feats at the 1936 Olympics 75 years later, comedian Bill Cosby said he remembers watching Owens on TV as a kid in the projects.
OSU continued its celebration of Owens Thursday with the Jesse Owens scholarship dinner. The dinner helped raise funds for the Ruth and Jesse Owens Scholars Program and was held in the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom in the Ohio Union.
OSU is honoring the 75th anniversary of Owens’ remarkable performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he won four gold medals with German dictator Adolf Hitler looking on.
The master of ceremonies for the dinner was ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, who wrote a book titled “Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics.” The event packed about 800 people into the ballroom, said Liz Cook, the university’s assistant director of media relations.
“Seventy-five years ago this summer in Berlin, while much of the rest of the world kowtowed to the Nazis, Jesse Owens stood up to them at their own Olympics, refuting their venomous theories with his awesome deeds, and tonight we pay tribute to the ‘Buckeye Bullet,'” Schaap said.
The keynote speaker of the event was Cosby, who ran track at Temple University.
Cosby spoke highly of Owens and the racial pressures he faced in his time. Schaap called Owens the “ultimate Olympian.”
Cosby walked on stage in a red OSU sweater with a white block “O,” in honor of Owens’ time at the university, and a black OSU baseball cap that Cosby said he got for free.
“I’m 73 years old,” Cosby said. “Born in 1937. Jesse had done all his work, then my mother decided to have me.”
Cosby was not shy when it came to race and Owens’ contributions.
“Jesse Owens was not a part of Hitler’s dream,” Cosby said. “He was the wrong color, but Hitler chose the wrong venue to prove this, that the black was inferior. If it was going to come down to jumping, which is sort of inherent. By the time slaves got off the boat, the first thing they start doing is jumping.”
Cosby also mentioned John Woodruff, an African-American Olympic track athlete who also ran at the 1936 Olympics. Woodruff was segregated at the University of Pittsburgh and was forbidden from staying in the dorms because of his color.
Cosby said people became offended when African-Americans wanted to get paid.
“I don’t want white people to be offended by what I’m saying or feel badly or poorly because the end of the story is near because we’re going to win,” Cosby said. “I’m talking about white and black.”
Chad Balyo, a fifth-year in marketing and distance runner on OSU’s men’s track team, said it was the most formal event he has been to and he enjoyed listening to Cosby.
“It was inspiring to see the excitement (Cosby) had for Jesse Owens, not just for the impact he had on OSU, but for the country,” Balyo said. “Seventy-five years ago, something special happened.”
Cosby said he grew up watching the black and white footage of Owens at the Olympics and always looked up to African-American athletes.
“Our people today, you don’t have many that you can look up to, and you can say ‘come on,'” Cosby said. “When I was a kid, it was, ‘Come on Jesse.’ I’ve seen that black and white film, I had seen it at age 8, I had seen it at least 20 times because they played it everywhere in the projects.”
Cosby said Owens’ contributions meant a lot more to him than just being a track idol.
“What did Jesse mean to me? It had nothing to do with me as a kid wanting to run track,” Cosby said.
OSU President E. Gordon Gee also spoke to the crowd and said Schaap’s presence was a bit unnerving.
“I must say that I had to take some Valium when I knew I was going to be on the same podium with Jeremy Schaap,” Gee said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a friendly sports reporter, as you know.”
Also in the crowd was the OSU Board of Trustees, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, the OSU men’s and women’s track and field teams and Harrison Dillard, a track athlete who won gold medals in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
Thomas Bradley contributed to this story.