Aug 16, 2004

The Olympics and Socially Conscious Athletes

Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos
raise fists for Black Power in 1968. (Source: AP)

It was the most popular medal ceremony of all time. The photographs of two black American sprinters standing on the medal podium with heads bowed and fists raised at the Mexico City Games in 1968 not only represent one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history but a milestone in America's civil rights movement.

The two men were Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Teammates at San Jose State College, Smith and Carlos were stirred by the suggestion of a young sociologist friend Harry Edwards, who asked them and all the other black American athletes to join together and boycott the games....

Still impassioned by Edwards' words, Smith and Carlos secretly planned a non-violent protest in the manner of Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 200-meter race, Smith won the gold medal and Carlos the bronze. As the American flag rose and the Star-Spangled Banner played, the two closed their eyes, bowed their heads, and began their protest.

Smith later told the media that he raised his right, black-glove-covered fist in the air to represent black power in America while Carlos' left, black-covered fist represented unity in black America. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. The black scarf around Smith's neck stood for black pride and their black socks (and no shoes) represented black poverty in racist America....

This image, and the story behind it remind me to ask: where are the athletes nowadays who are willing to forego their millions in advertisement and movie deals (while masterfully dodging resposibility as role models to America's youth) and take the risk to speak about social injustice and civic engagement in some meaningful way.

What do we have nowadays? Carlos Delgado isn't on the field during "God Bless America" to protest the American invasion of Iraq. But that's a personal choice that's getting blown out of proportion - he's not an activist, just like other athletes in faith who don't tell the world about their praying habits aren't preachers.

In 1995, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets was ostracized for not being around for a stretch of 60 games when the National Anthem was played. His career never recovered from the criticism that rained upon him at that time.

Where are our Muhammad Ali's, Paul Robeson's, and others of that deep professional skill and depthless personal conviction for speaking truth and pushing for what is right?


Anonymous said...

garap, they're out buying escalades or humvees.

Rage said...

yeah - or getting it on with minors...