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298 Topics: Famous Americans: Jesse Owens; National Science Foundation; plea versus appeal versus petition; somewhat versus somehow; Is that all?

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 298.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 298. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Why? So you can download this episode’s Learning Guide, of course. It’s an 8- to 10-page guide that will help you improve your English even faster than not downloading it.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on Jesse Owens, who was a track and field athlete. We’re also going to talk about the National Science Foundation, which is a U.S. government agency. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a continuation of our series on famous Americans. Today we’re going to talk about Jesse Owens, who was a track and field athlete. “Track and field” refers to a group of sports, which includes competitions for running, jumping, and throwing. Jesse Owens was an amazing athlete, we might call him a “sportsman,” but to really understand his importance in American history, you need to understand a little bit more about the time in which Jesse Owens lived.

Jesse Owens was African American, or black. He was born in Alabama, which is located in the southern part of the United States, what we call the Deep South. These were the states that tried to break away from the United States during the Civil War of the 1860s. In 1913, Alabama, like many places in the Deep South, was a place where African Americans were not treated very well. Even though black slaves received their freedom, that didn’t mean that they were accepted in southern society. In the early 20th century, in fact, there were many what we call “Jim Crow laws.” The name Jim Crow was an insulting term for African Americans in the 19th century; it came from a song that was written that made fun of blacks. In any case, Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that gave blacks “separate but equal” status. That is, they were not treated the same as whites; in fact, they were more separate than equal. They weren’t treated as equals, but that was the argument. Blacks and whites were expected to go to different schools, use different bathrooms, eat at different restaurants, go to different stores, even ride in different parts of a bus. All of these were Jim Crow laws; they were found in many states from the late 19th century all the way up to 1965.

This was a time, in other words, of “segregation,” keeping people separate if they looked different because of their skin color. Black people were excluded from participating in professional sports like baseball. It was not, that is to say, a very welcoming environment for black athletes. If you wanted to be a participant in sports, you were very likely not going to be accepted into teams or competitions that had white athletes.

There were a lot of obstacles for black athletes to succeed or become successful in sports. An “obstacle” is something that is in your way and prevents you from doing what you want to do. A lack of money can be an obstacle, for example, to getting a good job. “A lack of” means you don’t have enough of something. Poor eyesight, the inability to see well, can be an obstacle to becoming a pilot. Well, Jesse Owens faced many obstacles because he was African American, but he became a very successful athlete anyway.

As I said, he was born in Alabama in 1913. His name was James Cleveland, but everyone called him J.C., using the first letters of his first and middle names. Apparently a teacher of his misunderstood, and thought that instead of saying “J.C.” he said “Jesse” (Jesse), which is another name. But, because the teacher had used it, that eventually became the name that he used and was known by.

Jesse worked in many different jobs as a boy and a young man, but he loved to run. The track coach at his junior high school encouraged him to practice running, and he did. When he was still in high school, he tied a world record for running speed and the long jump. A “world record” is an official recording – an official marking down of the best way something has ever been done. Young Jesse Owens tied a world record for the 100-yard dash, we call it. A “dash” (dash) here means a fast run. The 100-yard dash – it’s 91 meters – he did in just 9.4 seconds. This was a world record, because no one had done it faster – up to that time, anyway.

Jesse, after high school, studied at the Ohio State University, where he won many championships and continued to “excel” or do very well as an athlete. But he also faced many obstacles. For example, he wasn’t allowed to live on campus with the white students. “On campus” means on the property that the school owned. When the team traveled for competitions, he had to eat at restaurants and sleep at hotels that were only for black people, while his teammates ate and slept at places for white people.

On May 25, 1935, Owens did an amazing thing. He broke – that is to say he beat or established new world records in three events, and tied the world record in a fourth event. He did this all in just 45 minutes. That is, within a 45 minute “span” or portion of time. Well, this certainly got people to notice him, not only in the United States but around the world. He “caught their attention,” we might say, he got them to notice what an amazing athlete he was.

In 1936, Jesse Owens went as part of the American team – the U.S. team – to the Summer Olympics. Now if you remember, the Summer Olympics were held in – took place in Berlin. This was at the time of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party. The political climate in Germany certainly was not one that would be in favor of a black athlete. Adolph Hitler was trying to use the Olympics as an opportunity to show the superiority of what he called the Aryan race, basically white people who were not Jewish. No Jews or racial minorities were allowed to be on the German team for the Olympics. Other countries, of course, thought this was wrong and there was, in fact, an attempt by one American organization to boycott these Olympic games. “To boycott” (boycott) means to not go to, to refuse to participate in. In 1980, the U.S. boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow, after the invasion of Afghanistan, and in 1984, the U.S.S.R. team boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Well, there was no boycott; the American team did go to the Olympics in Berlin in 1936. There were 312 American athletes on the Olympic teams. There were five Jewish Americans and 19 African Americans, including Jesse Owens. Owens did very well at the Olympics; in fact, he earned four gold medals, meaning he was the champion; he came in first in four different events. People were amazed by his performance and one company that makes athletic shoes, Adidas, which is still around, still making shoes for athletes, asked Owens to wear the company’s shoes. This was the first sponsorship for a male, African American athlete. A “sponsorship” is when a company gives an athlete lots of money for wearing and using their products. Perhaps the most famous sponsorship deals are those with athletes such as Michael Jordan and Nike, as well as the golfer Tiger Woods. But in 1936, this was not something that was done very often, and was never done for African American athletes.

Hitler was annoyed – was unhappy that this African American was beating the white German athletes. Some people say he refused to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Other Germans, however, appreciated his athletic performance. Around 110,000 people “cheered,” or clapped and screamed loudly for him in the Olympic stadium. Many Germans asked for his “autograph,” that is his signature, and he was allowed to stay in hotels where white people also stayed.

Although Hitler was not happy with Owens’ success at the Olympic games, many Americans were. When he came back to the United States he was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City. A “ticker-tape parade” is where people take small pieces of paper, confetti, and throw them from the tall office buildings in New York City, and they fall down on the person being honored. Ticker-tape parades are given to great heroes, great athletes, victorious athletic teams, and so forth. It’s a tradition, especially in New York City. Owens was happy, of course, to receive this great honor. He was not happy with the way the U.S. government officials reacted to his win. Some say he was more angry at the American government than at Hitler by the way that they reacted. The president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, never sent congratulations from the White House. When Roosevelt died and was “succeeded” or had his place taken by the next U.S. President, Harry Truman, Truman also did not honor Owens. Owens felt that he was snubbed by the president. “To be snubbed” (snubbed) means that you are ignored by someone; it’s a sort of insult to you. He wasn’t honored until 1955 by a U.S. President, when President Dwight Eisenhower named him an “Ambassador of Sports.” An “ambassador” is an official representative of your country to another country.

After the Olympic games of the 1930s, Owens helped create the West Coast Baseball Association, which was a new African American – what was then called a Negro baseball league. Owens was the owner of the Portland Rosebuds in Portland, Oregon, which is located in the northwest part of the U.S., just north of California. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a lot of money. He worked for a time at a gas station; he worked in a dry-cleaning business, a place that cleans clothing. He had a lot of problems with money over the years, but he did also represent the United States by giving speeches to different organizations – different companies.

He died in Tucson, Arizona. Arizona is just east of California, in the south. He died in Tucson in 1980, but he is still remembered today as one of the great American athletes. There have been many things named for Jesse Owens: streets, buildings, parks, and so forth. He’s considered an American hero because of his great athletic ability, and by overcoming obstacles, he was one of the first great African American athletes of the 20th century.

Now let’s turn briefly to our next topic, which is something called the National Science Foundation, or NSF. The NSF was created in 1950 to help promote the progress of science, to make sure that American resources, especially government resources, were being used to help increase the scientific knowledge in the U.S., as well as help our national defense. The mission statement or the purpose statement for the NSF is similar to some other government agencies. The NSF, however, is recognized as being the main place where researchers and scientists can go within the U.S. government and get money for their work.

The NSF has a budget now of about seven billion dollars. It’s extremely important in “academia,” that is, at the universities; it certainly was important at all of the universities I’ve taught at. About 20 percent of all the federally or national government funded research at U.S. universities and colleges is funded by NSF. It’s especially important in mathematics, in computer science, in economics, and in what are called the social sciences.

NSF doesn’t have research laboratories of its own. There are parts of the U.S. government that do have research laboratories, but the NSF doesn’t. It instead asks scientists and researchers to apply for grants. A “grant” is an amount of money that you are given, in this case for a specific scientific project. The NSF receives about 40,000 grant applications or proposals each year. It funds or gives money to about 25 percent of those. Groups of independent scientists, engineers, and other experts review these proposals. “Independent” here means they are not working for the NSF and they are not receiving money from the grant. These proposals are reviewed, and then they are ranked in order – first, second, third, fourth – based on how good they are; they’re based on their “merit” (merit). The NSF, then, takes these rankings and gives money until it doesn’t have any money left.

The NSF is one of those American institutions that, especially at the university, you learn about if you’re a researcher or a professor. I never applied for an NSF grant; I have applied for other grants from other government organizations that work in a very similar way to the NSF.

Now let’s answer some of the questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Ali (Ali) in Iran. The question has to do with the three words “plea,” appeal,” and “petition.” These are all words used in the legal field, by lawyers and judges. Let’s start with “plea” (plea).

A general meaning of this word, “plea,” as a verb is to ask for or request something, often in situations that are very serious or situations that are very desperate, where you’re really trying to get the other person to give you what you are asking. We talk about someone “pleaing for their life,” perhaps, if someone is about to kill them. They are requesting, they are asking, they are pleaing that the person not kill them.

In the in legal system – in the courts, a “plea” is a formal statement of whether you are saying that you are innocent, if you are the person being accused of a crime. That is, the police arrest you, you go before a judge, you have to say whether you are innocent or guilty. You have to, the term is, “enter a plea.” So, the “plea” is whether you are guilty or innocent. You say, “I want to enter a plea of innocence.” That is, I am saying that I did not do this crime. Or sometimes, the person who is being accused of the crime will enter a guilty plea. They’ll say, “Yes, I’m guilty,” and in exchange the government will not punish them as much as they might otherwise have done; they’ll give them a lighter sentence. A “sentence” is the amount of time or the punishment that you receive – the amount of time in prison. A light punishment is one where you don’t get a lot time in prison, a light sentence.

“Appeal” (appeal) can also mean to request or ask for something. In the legal world – in the world of law – an “appeal” is what happens after the court has made a decision. So you go before the judge, and the judge says, “You’re guilty,” you can appeal to a higher judge – a higher level of judge if you think the judge did something wrong, for example, or made a mistake. You have to have some reason for appealing; you can’t just appeal because you don’t like being found guilty. But, appeals are quite common in the American legal system.

“Appeal” can also have another general meaning, which is to interest people, to get other people to be interested in you. We might talk about “sex appeal,” that’s how sexually attractive someone is, whether they’re able to get other people interested in them. That’s something I’ve never had, unfortunately!

“Petition” (petition) can also, as a verb, mean to ask for, but it’s a very formal term. “The lawyer is going to petition for a new trial.” There, it is a formal request.

“Plea,” “appeal,” and “petition” are all legal terms. “Plea” and “appeal” can also be used in more general situations.

Pavel (Pavel) from the Country of Bangladesh wants to know the difference between “somewhat” and “somehow.”

“Somewhat” means a little bit or partly. “It is somewhat cold today.” That means it’s not very cold, but it’s a little cold. “Somewhat” is similar to the expressions “kind of” and “sort of” that we talked about recently here on the Café.

“Somehow” means in an unknown way, in a way that you don’t understand. “I was somehow unable to find the library.” I’m not sure why I could not, but I could not; I don’t understand why. Somehow, I was lost.

“Somewhat” is very different in meaning; it means a little bit. Again, it makes something that is positive a little less positive. “She’s somewhat of a nice person” means she’s not really nice, but she’s not bad either. Or, it can make something negative a little less negative. “I thought the movie was somewhat stupid.” It wasn’t completely stupid, but it was a little bit stupid.

Finally, Karimov (Karimov) in Uzbekistan wants to know the meaning of the expression “is that all?” There are actually two meanings – related meanings to this expression, which is quite common in English – American English. When someone is talking to you and you want to make sure that they are finished speaking, you can say this expression. However, usually it’s used when you are saying that the person has been talking too long, or especially when the person is complaining about something and you are indicating that you don’t want to listen to them anymore and that it is your turn to speak. “Mark shouted for an hour at his friend. His friend finally said, ‘Is that all?’ and then began to yell at him.” So when someone is talking to you for a long time, usually complaining or criticizing you, then you can use that expression as a way of getting the opportunity to speak yourself.

“Is that all?” can also be used to express surprise at how little or how few something is. For example: “I’m going on a trip for six weeks; I have one suitcase.” You might say, “Is that all?” meaning you only have one, implying that perhaps you should have more. Or, “It only took me 15 minutes to do my homework.” Your teacher might say, “Is that all? Only 15 minutes?” and you say, “Yes, I copied it from the Internet!”

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.


track and field – a group of sports, including many competitions for running, jumping, and throwing

* The athletes are getting ready for their races in the track and field events.

Jim Crow law – laws that gave African Americans “separate but equal” status, so that they would have separate services and facilities from whites

* Due to the Jim Crow laws, many of the restaurants in this town wouldn’t serve African Americans before the 1970s.

segregation – the separating of people because they have different skin color

* There was segregation in schools in most towns and cities in the southern U.S., so that white students attended one school and black students attended another.

obstacle – something that is in one’s way and prevents one from doing what one wants to do

* One big obstacle in Quinn’s dream to live and work in Tokyo is that he doesn’t speak any Japanese!

world record – an official recording of the best, greatest, or most way something has ever been done

* What is the world record for climbing the highest mountain the most times?

to boycott – to refuse to buy, use, or participate in something to show one’s displeasure or to protest a policy or situation

* We’re boycotting that store because it doesn’t hire women as managers.

autograph – signature; a written name, usually of someone famous

* I’m so excited that I got the autograph of my favorite actress, Julia Roberts!

ticker-tape parade – a march and celebrate along a street, while paper is being thrown from above, usually done to recognize the achievements of a person or group of people

* When Bo won the championship, the town held a ticker-tape parade for him.

to snub – to ignore someone in order to show one’s displeasure or bad feelings, or one’s disapproval

* Did you see that? Jena just snubbed Cathy, because she doesn’t think Cathy is popular and fashionable enough to attend Jena’s party.

grant – an amount of money given by an organization or the government to a researcher, artist, or other professional for a particular project

* Jiselle received a grant to continue her cancer research.

independent – not connected with an organization; free from the control of another person or organization

* A group of independent accountants is coming to look at the company’s accounts to find out how much money is missing.

merit – being good and worthy; being of high quality and deserving

* He is a teacher of very high merit and his students learn a lot every year.

plea – a request, especially one made with strong emotions; a formal statement of guilt or innocence made in court by someone who is on trial for a crime

* Will the governor hear the pleas of the people to lower taxes in these difficult financial times?

appeal – a request, especially one made with strong emotions to a person in power

* If your professor refuses to correct your grade, you can file an appeal to the university board.

petition – the act of asking for something, especially formally and in writing

* Because of problems with my trial, my lawyer has filed a petition for a new trial.

somewhat – a little bit; partly

* My luggage is somewhat worn after years of traveling, but it should still be usable for my next trip.

somehow – in an unknown way; in a way that is not understood

* Somehow the dog got onto the roof and he needs to come down by himself.

Is that all? – Are you finished speaking? Is everything finished? Do you have all of your things?

* - Here are my six suitcases.

* - Is that all?

What Insiders Know
Sponsoring Athletes

Being a top athlete requires a lot of work and “determination” (having a firm purpose and not stopping until one reaches a goal). “Devoting” (giving completely) one’s time to “train” (learn and practice) and the costs of playing some sports require that athletes also have financial support. This support is often in the form of corporate “sponsorship” (giving of money for an activity or organization) by businesses.

Just before the competitions began at the Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens had a visitor. The “founder” (person who started a company or organization) of Adidas, a large company making athletic shoes and “apparel” (clothing), went to see Jesse Owens and convinced him to wear Adidas shoes during his competitions. This “marked” (indicated) the first sponsorship for a male African American athlete.

Today, corporate sponsorship in sports “runs the gamut” (with a wide range of things). The sponsorship may require as little as providing clothing and equipment for an individual athlete to “picking up the tab” (paying) for an entire team to train, travel, and participate in competition.

In the field of “marketing” (advertising and promoting of products), when an athlete or a team is being promoted, it is often referred to as “marketing of sports.” The point is to get others interested in a particular athlete or team. What Adidas did with Jesse Owens, and so many companies do today with top athletes and teams, is referred to as “marketing through sports.” The aim is not to promote the athlete or team, but to promote a product. By “associating” (connecting) a certain product with a desirable athlete or team, a company hopes to “boost” (increase; raise) sales. In today’s world of sports, this type of marketing is “big business” (involving a lot of money).