HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) — With the Tokyo Olympic Games starting later this week, Jeanne Murphy’s view of the final preparations comes from the vantage point of someone who’s been there. A former member of the U.S. modern pentathlon team, during her 30-year career with the U.S. Army Murphy was given oversight of the military’s program for world-class athletes, an assignment that placed her on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Games committees.
As a result, Murphy views the upcoming games through the lens of one who sees beyond medals and glory to the intrinsic value of the games—the triumph of international cooperation and the years of training and perseverance of the athletes. “To me, sport, especially the Olympics, is global,” said Murphy, the wife of Centenary University President Bruce Murphy, Ed.D. “It’s all about the beauty of human performance and nations coming together collegially. That’s especially important this year, as people around the world continue to experience isolation as a result of the pandemic and are working together to ensure the games can be held safely.”
More than ever before, this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games require intense pandemic-era cooperation between nations to provide a safe environment for the more than 15,000 athletes from 200 nations who will gather in Tokyo for the Olympic Games beginning on July 23 and the Paralympic Games on Aug. 24. A trained Army nurse, Murphy explained, “This year is going to be very different. There are so many necessary restrictions, including not allowing spectators. With the recent surge of cases in Japan, the International Olympic Committee is continually reevaluating measures to keep the athletes in the competitive bubble, as well as the Japanese public, as safe as possible.”
A native of St. Louis, Murphy is a retired colonel whose Army career took her all over the world. In 2005, she was given oversight of the military’s program for developing world-class athletes, leading first to a position on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Board of Directors, and later, an appointment as chief of mission for the U.S. Paralympic Committee. Through these posts, Murphy attended the Olympic Games in Sydney and Salt Lake City, and the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, where she led Team U.S.A. into the stadium for the opening ceremony. Her post also enabled her to attend U.S. Olympic development camps, World Cup tournaments, and military world championships.
Her Paralympic experience in Athens both inspired and humbled Murphy, who noted that the event requires a large staff to support the athletic, health, and safety requirements of competitors: “Each athlete requires more service-connected people. You can’t do it alone without coordination and leadership, all the way down the chain.”
At Centenary University, Murphy views intercollegiate athletics as central to the University’s mission to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging throughout the campus community. Earlier this spring, she helped to advance that mission, through the lens of the Olympics, when Centenary Stage Company hosted the premier of Turning, a play by Darrah Cloud about the first U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team—which included Ada Lunardoni of Hackettstown—in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The play also weaves in the story of Jesse Owens, the Black American sprinter who made sporting history that summer in Berlin, but encountered systemic racism throughout much of his life when he returned home.
Murphy has hosted several virtual presentations on Turning to foster discussions among campus community members and Centenary alumni on current issues in the nation that continue to impede diversity, inclusion, and belonging: “The play gave us so many things to discuss and enlighten people about. A lot of students don’t understand the severe race issues our country, and the world, were having at the time of the 1936 Olympics. Unfortunately, issues related to race are still happening.”