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Remembering Rafer Johnson

December 7, 2020

The inspirational, charitable, Rafer Johnson, so much more than an Olympic champion, died days back, at the age of 86.

While any of us, so called sports fans rightfully marvel at Johnson’s athletic feats and prowess, which includes a gold medal in the decathalon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and a silver medal in same at the Melbourne, Victoria, Australia event in 1956, a man denied his Olympic chance by politics (a euphonism for the hate and terror of Hitler and the utter hypocrisy and “goose step following’ of the U.S. Olympic Committee headed by Avery Brundage), Marty Glickman talked of what the Olympics could be and that is great comradery between the competing athletes.

Rare if ever, in any sport, was it better demonstrated than in the 1960 Decathalon final event when Rafer’s U.C.L.A. teammate and lifelong friend, but also competitor, urged him on and he captured the prize.

There is a prize in victory, especially in glorious competition, however the real “prize” of friendship in that event, has always resonated far beyond what lists Johnson and Yang’s 1-2 finish.

Additionally, Rafer worked tirelessly on behalf of the Special Olympics and in a perhaps related, “you do what you can but bad, real bad” does seap in, helped along with football star Roosevelt Grier get the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan, but tragically, not before his shots entered and eventually killed Robert F. Kennedy, a final, sick blow from a society that condones and promotes senseless violence.

Through it all, Rafer stood tall, a beacon of light and help, as we all go on, now 60 years after his Olympic moment with Mr. Yang and without either still on this angst ridden planet. 

Memories include his brother Jim, #37 with the San Francisco 49ers, more than a Hall of Fame player, so good they rarely threw at him.

A tribute or two can be “linked” below, the silent footage of Johnson, Yang and the Russian bronze winner, Vasily Kuznetsov on the stand is moving and priceless.

Thanks for being and giving so much, Rafer.



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