“This is a man’s world,” James Brown sang as sweat poured down his face and his voice cut with a plaintive soul that only he and maybe Otis Redding seemed capable of producing. But the Godfather of Soul wasn’t through, concluding, “but it would be nothing, nothing, notthhiiinnnng without a woman or a girl!”
This is the way that it once was. Less we forget.
I was watching an old Groucho Marx “You Bet Your Life” TV show on YouTube recently while churning away on the elliptical cross trainer. The episode was from 1954 and was sponsored by “De Soto-Plymouth from your Chrysler dealer”.
The half-hour game show featured a series of three couples who spun a wheel and won some money, but the real entertainment was watching Groucho interact with the couples who were little more than foils for his legendary ad libs.
But in each separate case when it came time to actually play the game, it was the man who took complete control, whether in determining the value of the question, or in giving the answer, rarely even conferring with his female partner, even when you could tell he didn’t know the answer and she did.
On each occasion the woman stood meekly by as Groucho asked the questions with the same patronizing tone that the man then answered. That’s just how the world was, and still is in many places. The strong will take and assume their right to do so.
This was the attitude that formed the world-view of generation after generation of women, know your place, it’s a man’s world.
But for quiet but dignified women like Michigan native Alice Schneider, a pioneering contributor to the New York Road Runners who passed away September 24th, that attitude was never a comfortable fit, nor one to be blindly perpetuated. The country was changing as Alice was coming of age. And so was the sport of running.
Alice wasn’t one of the front people at the East 89th Street headquarters of the NYRR. Legendary impresario Fred Lebow soaked up most of the media spotlight. But in a time when the sport was still developing and finding its way, Alice was an invaluable pathfinder. It was the work that she did behind the scenes in timing, scoring and computerized registration that laid the foundation for the immense organization we see today.
She along with her husband Allan Steinfeld was also among the first generation to spend the great bulk of their professional careers in the sport of running as it boomed, developed, then took its place within the mainstream of American life.
The world has always been a we’ll-do-what-we-have-to-do kind of place. In the early years at 9 East 89th Street with Fred and Allan there was an we-are-all-in-it togetherness that Alice helped form. The sport and NYRR in many ways was her family.
This is sport once thought, as James Brown sang, “this is a man’s world”. But people like Alice Schneider bet her professional life on this game, and then showed by her example, dedication and good humor that it wouldn’t have become anywhere near what it is today without such as her backing it, forming it, loving it.
Our deepest condolences to Allan and the rest of the NYRR family on their loss.