Abramson, Jesse P. 1904-1979
ABRAMSON, Jesse P. 1904-1979
PERSONAL: Born March 10, 1904, in Mountaindale, NY; died of cancer, June 11, 1979, in Mount Vernon, NY.
MEMBER: New York Track Writers (founder and president).
AWARDS, HONORS: Grantland Rice Award of the Sportsmanship Brotherhood; James J. Walker Award for service to boxing; award for meritorious service from the New York Track and Field Writers Association; prizes from E. P. Dutton publishers for stories, 1948, 1952, 1957, 1958, and 1965; inducted into Track and Field Hall of Fame (Indianapolis, IN) in honor of career achievements, 1981.
Associated with the book Famous Sports Moments, Associated Features (New York, NY), 1958. Contributor to Best Sports Stories, Dutton, 1944-1967.
SIDELIGHTS: Sportswriter Jesse P. Abramson was known as "The Book" among his contemporaries because of his extraordinary memory and profound knowledge of sports. Although his expertise was greatest when it came to track and field, Abramson also wrote authoritatively about boxing, college football, baseball, swimming, fencing, rowing, and automobile racing. He earned a reputation as an accurate, tireless, inquisitive reporter capable of vivid reportage.
Abramson began writing about sports for the New York Herald in the early 1920s, an era known as the Golden Age of American sports. During the 1920s, the popular appeal of sports rose dramatically. Part of the reason for this was a new generation of journalists, sometimes called the "gee whiz" school of writers, who created exaggerated, heroic images of talented athletes, such as Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. Although influenced in the beginning by their exaggerated hyperbolic style, Abramson nevertheless developed his own deliberate and authoritative approach. In his articles, he reported the unfolding of a football game, a track-and-field meet, or a prizefight in such a way that readers had the sense of actually witnessing it themselves.
Abramson was accepted by Columbia University in the fall of 1922, but he opted instead to take a position as a stringer in the sports department of the New York Herald. "I was only being paid per story," Abramson told Chuck Stogel in a Sportscope interview, "but I was lucky to have a friendly editor who would put one column of mine in the first edition and then a fresh copy in the second edition. I was able to make about $125 a week as a stringer, which was as much as anybody working full-time back then." At the Herald, one of the oldest newspapers in the United States, the young reporter had the chance to work with some of the country's best sportswriters. He covered high school football, track-and-field meets, and provided profiles of top performers from the prep schools. He also authored a weekly column summarizing high-school and college freshman sports in the metropolitan New York area.
In 1924 the New York Herald became the New York Herald Tribune and hired Grantland Rice to cover the Summer Olympic Games from Paris. Transmitted by cable, his reports arrived to the sports desk in a condensed text that needed rewriting. Abramson was given the assignment of filling out the terse reports. "You see, at that time," Abramson explained to Stogel, "all overseas copy was sent in cable-ese. It was an abbreviated transmission of mostly verbs and nouns to save money. We'd rewrite the stories by filling in the rest of the needed words." Rewriting Rice's reports provided a big break in Abramson's career; afterward, he was given his own byline and was assigned to the Olympic Games, track and field, and amateur sports in general as his permanent principal beat for the Herald Tribune. He provided firsthand coverage of the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928, Los Angeles in 1932, Berlin in 1936, London in 1948, Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960, and Tokyo in 1964. In 1968, he worked for the Mexican Olympic Committee as the foreign press chief at the games in Mexico City, and covered the event for the Washington Post. He reported on the 1972 games in Munich for both the International Herald Tribune and the Washington Post. At the Montreal summer games in 1976, he served as the press liaison for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Because of his knowledge of the Olympics, especially track and field, Abramson's presence at the games was considered essential by many reporters.
Abramson witnessed and wrote about more than fifty years of Olympic Games. During those years, the games were dominated by American athletes, who won more gold, silver, and bronze medals than any other nation until 1952, when the Soviet Union entered a team that came within five medals of the seventy-six garnered by the United States. In 1956, the Soviet Union surpassed the United States in total medals, ninety-eight to seventy-four. Although Abramson wrote glowingly about America's Olympic performers, he had recognized by the early 1960s that the rest of the world, especially the Soviet Union and the Eastern Europeans, had caught up with and, in some events, surpassed the United States.
Many commentators consider the track and field events to be the heart of the Olympics. Similarly, many track- and-field correspondents regarded Abramson as "the dean of American track and field writers and scholars," as Bob Hersh of Track and Field News put it. Abramson distinguished himself from other track-andfield correspondents by his unmatched memory for statistical details and his appreciation for the philosophy behind the sport. Abramson also reported on more than a half-century of track-and-field competitions outside the Olympics. In track and field, as in the larger Olympic movement, he saw the United States dominate the sport internationally, only later to be challenged by the Soviet Union and other emerging nations.
At the conclusion of the American indoor track-andfield season, the New York Track and Field Writers Association annually awards the outstanding male athlete a trophy in Abramson's honor. After his death the USOC Invitational also created the Jesse Abramson Memorial Award to recognize meritorious service to track and field.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 241: American Sportswriters and Writers on Sport, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
New York Post, January 11, 1979, Paul Zimmerman, "Abramson Still in Command," p. 78.
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1978, B, pp. 1, 4.
Sportscope, June 24, 1978, Chuck Stogel, "Abramson: A Gold Medal Career," pp. 10, 38.
Track and Field News, August, 1979, p. 57.
New York Times, June 12, 1979.*