1968 Mexico City Olympics- Tommie Smith and John Carlos-American Heroes

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1968 was a violent, nasty and very political year. America was having a nervous breakdown. Assassinations, the cities were burning, an increasingly unpopular war was going on in Vietnam. At the Mexico City Olympics three men took a non-violent stand, on the podium following the 200 meters race.

Tommie Smith won the gold and his teammate at San Jose State, John Carlos took the bronze. An Austrailian Peter Norman shocked the world and took silver. Everyone thought it would be Smith and Carlos battling it out, no one figured Norman would be in the running. John Carlos came in as the world record holder.  Tommie Smith broke the World Record in that run. It all would have ended there and Tommie Smith and John Carlos would be known only by track and field and olympic geeks 44 years later if not for what happened on the podium during the playing of the United States National Anthem.

Both Smith and Carlos stood barefoot on the podium [symbolizing black poverty in America} Their heads were bowed [symbolizing that in America the National Anthem only represented whites} Their fists were raised{to symbolize black strength and unity. It was the Black Power salute} Tommie Smith wore a black scarf around his neck, Carlos a string of beads as a memorial to blacks who had been lynched.

The silver medalists Peter Norman asked Smith and Carlos if he could take part too, he wore the Olympic Project For Human Rights badge on his chest to show his support of Smith and Carlos. Norman also wanted to show his protest against Austrailian goverment immigration policies.

The IOC behind the nazi sympathizer Avery Brundage- demanded the American’s kick Smith and Carlos off the team and send them out of the Olympic Village. When the American’s refused to do that, the IOC said the entire American track team would be banned if they didn’t. The American Olympic Committee then caved in.

Smith and Carlos paid a heavy price for what they did. When they came back to America they had a hard time for years finding work. Both men saw their marriages end in divorce.

I have come full circle on this issue. When it happened i was 7 years old, it was my first Olympics. I didn’t really understand what was going on. Later I thought these men were wrong in what they did, that the Olympics were not the place for such shenanigans. In recent years after thinking a lot about this, I think what Smith and Carlos did was very noble. Who did they hurt? They only really hurt themselves but they were brave enough to take that stand knowing what they did was going to be highly controversial. As far as doing it at the Olympic Games-where were they going to get more attention than at the games?

Avery Brundage spoke of ‘the politicizing of the games” and how wrong that was. As John Carlos pointed out-the games were always political. Why do they play the national anthems? Why do they keep a medal count? Why did the American’s want to beat the East Germans and the Soviet Union? Why do each country dress in the uniforms symbolizing their countries?

I used to view Smith and Carlos as jerks. I admit that. I never lived their lives. I do not know what they went through. I now look at what they did in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics as heroic. They are American Heroes in my book.

 

 

 

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