“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” — Tommie Smith
45 years ago yesterday. From Wikipedia:
On the morning of 16 October 1968, U.S.A. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Australia’s Peter Norman finished second with a time of 20.06 seconds, and the U.S.A.’s John Carlos won third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to the podium for their medals to be presented by David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.” All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia’s White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals.
Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove. For this reason, Carlos raised his left hand as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd.
From The Nation:
Yet the intersection of the Olympics and injustice remains if anything more pungent than in 1968. Today, the Olympics arrive on the shores of a host-nation like a neoliberal virus, displacing the nation’s poorest residents in the name of massive construction projects. Global corporations, with exclusive International Olympic Committee seals of approval, force local businesses to shut down as they brand the festivities like it’s a NASCAR event. The poor of a city are herded off, jailed or even disappeared in the name of making an Olympic city pristine for visiting dignitaries. Today, we are witnessing the mass evictions of thousands Rio de Janeiro’s poorest residents in the name of the 2016 games, and, as in London in 2012, the introduction of surveillance drones to monitor the proceedings. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has outlawed demonstrations for sixty days before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics amidst both a shocking attack on the nation’s LGBT population, as well as an unprecedented carnival of graft.
Would athletes be taking one hell of a risk by speaking out? Look at what Carlos, Smith and Norman suffered. First, there was the media barrage as the Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute” and the Chicago Tribune called their actions “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” But the most shameful display was by a young reporter for the Chicago American named Brent Musburger who called them “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers”, a slur for which he has never apologized.
And more from The Guardian:
The BBC paid them $1,000 in cash for an exclusive interview. Will you not benefit from the notoriety and publicity the protest has generated, they were asked. “I can’t eat that,” Carlos said. “And the kids round my block can’t eat it. They can’t eat publicity, they can’t eat gold medals. All they want is an equal chance to be a human being.”
The truth of this observation was clear after their return to America. After a near-violent scrum of reporters assaults them in Los Angeles, they board a second flight to San Jose. “Once we got back we were ostracised, even by our own,” Smith said. “Folks were scared, man. No jobs. We couldn’t find work. People even told us, ‘We can’t get close to you guys because we have our own jobs to protect.’ These were my friends. At least, they were my friends before I left for Mexico City.”