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Jesse Owens

Checkered Post-athletic Career

Owens gave up his amateur status after the 1936 Berlin Games and took on numerous paid speaking engagements, including appearances for Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon in the 1936 election, for which he earned $10,000. Owens put some of his earnings into a dry cleaning business in Cleveland, which soon went out of business. With the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing suit against Owens for unpaid taxes from his 1936 earnings, Owens declared bankruptcy in May 1939 and struggled to pull his finances together. He took a position in the personnel department of the Ford Motor Company, where he worked from 1943 to 1945, and then pursued a short-lived venture with a sporting goods business in Detroit. In 1946 Owens moved with his family to Chicago, where he started his own public relations agency and remained active in Republican Party politics. After polishing his skills as a public speaker, Owens was able to make a comfortable living as a motivational speaker and his political connections helped him gain an appointment with the Illinois State Athletic Commission in 1953.

As a public relations executive and motivational speaker, Owens finally hit his stride in his post-athletic career. He also began a lucrative association with the Atlantic Richfield Company, which began sponsoring the Jesse Owens Games for Chicago youth in 1965. The next year, however, Owens was convicted for tax evasion. The IRS revealed that Owens had failed to file tax returns between 1954 and 1962 and he was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $3,000 in addition to his back taxes. Owens emerged from the scandal with his reputation fairly intact. Yet he courted controversy again when he criticized the protest of two African-American athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The athletes had given a "Black Power" salute of raised fists on the awards podium, which Owens deemed inappropriate. In 1970 Owens published a book that chided Black Power activists, Blackthink: My Life as a Black Man and White Man, although he offered a more conciliatory tone in his 1972 book I Have Changed.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldJesse Owens - Part Of The Great Migration, Athletic Success As A Teenager, Chronology, Related Biography: Coach Charles Riley