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More Raised Black Fists at Olympics Ceremonies

In 1968, John Carlos and Tommy Smith made Civil Rights history at the Olympics in Mexico. When they won the gold and bronze, both men wore black gloves, and raised their fists in silent protest for the world to see. Where are the brave, socially-conscious athletes of today?
More Raised Black Fists at Olympics Ceremonies
By Kirsten Anderberg (

A while ago, I was having a hard time and my son told me to look at our computer's wallpaper. And sure enough, it immediately brought a smile to my crumpled forehead. He had switched the wallpaper to be a picture of Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, holding their fists in the air. I would have to say of all the Olympic moments, for me, that is the one I still love most. I would like to see more raised black gloves on those pedestals during medals ceremonies, honestly. The Olympics is a perfect forum for political statements, such as Smith and Carlos made.

The Olympics committee uses politics in their agenda all the time. The fact that this is the first year there is a Palestinian Olympics team is proof of that. Certainly during WWII, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when Jesse Owens kicked Hitler's sorry-assed Aryans' butts, politics were in full swing. Owens, an American black sprinter, won four gold medals - the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump. He had already broken 3 world records the year prior. Hitler refused to hand Owens his medals but later met with Owens in private with other medal winners. But later Owens said they still made him enter the back of the bus while at those ceremonies. Owens was eventually awarded the Medal of Freedom over time and stands as a symbol of racism confronted at the Olympics.
Although the Olympics committee allowed that racism to flourish, the Olympics administration looked bad, really bad, for it. But reality is that the Olympics are very much about politics as much as sportsmanship. I saw some guys from France on TV recently saying they do not care about the Olympics as it is "too American." They said France is a small country and they have a small Olympic contingent. They said America has so many athletes entered that it is like the American Olympics. Certainly which countries the Olympics "allows" to compete is also *very* political. So, to say athletes who use the Olympic forum for political statements are not conducting themselves in line with Olympic standards is untrue. The Olympics, themselves, are used for political agenda, *by the Olympics committee* every single day.

In 1968, Tommy Smith and John Carlos were two of the world's greatest sprinters. Both were students at San Jose State University (SJSU). While attending SJSU, they both attended the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Smith won the gold, Carlos the bronze, both in the 200 meters. Smith's time equaled the world record at the time. But it was during the medals ceremony, that Carlos and Smith made civil rights history. Many since them have won gold and bronze medals in track. None since have created such a stir during the medals ceremony over civil rights, and it is a shame. Especially since many of the issues Carlos and Smith addressed are as pressing, if not more so, today, as they were in 1968.

Smith and Carlos used the medals ceremony as a platform of revolt against the indignations occurring within the black communities of America, as well as worldwide, due to governmental neglect, corporate greed, institutionalized racism, and other societal menaces. Smith and Carlos silently protested for the world to see. Smith and Carlos were on the podiums in their stocking feet, to protest poverty. Silver Medallist Peter Norman from Australia, was also on a podium next to them. As the American flag began to raise, Norman saw Carlos and Smith taking out their gloves, and he ran to the stands to grab a patch from the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) to show his support for what they were doing. As the flag raised, both the gold and bronze medallists bowed their heads, a black glove on Smith's left hand, and a black glove on Carlos' right hand, and they raised their fists in solidarity. They raised their fists to protest racism and the poverty of all oppressed people of the world. They raised their fists to empower the Black community. They raised their fists to protest the lack of civil rights in America for Blacks.

Smith and Carlos had gotten involved with the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), which again shows how the Olympics are *not* apolitical. In 1968, the OPHR had three main demands: 1) Give Muhammad Ali his title back, as it was stripped from him earlier that year for his staunch anti-Vietnam War stance, 2) Get rid of Avery Brundage who was the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and supposedly a white supremacist, responsible in part for facilitating Hitler's agenda in Berlin, and 3) They wanted Rhodesia and South Africa to be "disinvited" due to apartheid, as a show of solidarity with international black freedom struggles. The political climate that the 1968 Mexico Olympics was held in was explosive. The Vietnam War was proving to be a quagmire, Prague Spring was in full bloom, Rev. Dr. M.L.King, Jr. was assassinated, the Black Panther Party was receiving national press, France was experiencing unprecedented general strikes, etc. In fact, just days before the Olympic games in 1968, hundreds of students were massacred in Mexico City for occupying the National University. There was an air of antagonism, of struggle, of empowerment in the face of struggle all over. And members of the OPHR reported being harassed and intimidated.

It only took a few hours after their protest on the podiums for Avery Brundage, the white head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, to expel Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Village, and suspend them from the U.S. team, as well as taking their medals away from them. Avery Brundage (the guy the OPHR asked to be removed) said the men had violated the principles of the Olympics, that politics were to play "no part whatsoever" in them. The Olympic Crew Team, all white and all from Harvard, issued a bold statement of support for their black teammates' "efforts to dramatize the injustices and inequities which permeate out society." Wyomia Tyus, anchor of the U.S. Women's gold medal winning 4x100 team, dedicated their 1968 relay win to John Carlos and Tommy Smith. Even in more recent times, Steve Holman, a 1992 Olympics competitor, and one of America's fastest runners during 1990-1995, says he was highly influenced by what these men did in 1968.

The white press had a field day berating and degrading the two men. The L.A.Times said the men's salute to Black Power was a "Nazi-like salute." Time Magazine used a graphic for their story that had the Olympic logo but instead of "Faster, Higher, Stronger," it said "Angrier, Nastier, Uglier." Although much of white America seemed frightened by the power move by the two men, calling the men poor sportsmen and unpatriotic, or un-American, Black America welcomed them home as heroes. Still the two men received death threats once back in America. When Smith was asked in more recent times if he would do it again, if he had it to live all over, he said he would do it again.

I saw the U.S. Olympics women's gymnastics team interviewed on TV recently. They were asked what they do for inspiration, and all down the line, most every one of them said they pray to a Christian god, basically. Which seems ridiculously unsportsmenlike to me. Praying to god should not be what athletes do, it seems. For "god loves all his little children," right? But I saw no big political upset coming out of that bastion of White Christian American Olympic pride. So, I ask, where are the brave, politically conscious athletes of today? Where are those athletes that are willing to use the international forum at the Olympics to spotlight troubled areas of human rights violations worldwide? I am hoping for more powerful athletes in the future, and I am not talking about their physical performances.

(Editor's Note: Posters of Carlos and Smith's protest are available at

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Re: More Raised Black Fists at Olympics Ceremonies

Great article til the last paragraph.


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