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  • The 1968 US Olympic track and field team is considered one of the greatest ever assembled

  • to represent the US in the Olympics.

  • They won 28 medals and set 8 world records at the games in Mexico City.

  • The team included some of the fastest runners in the world at the time.

  • Like sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who made history when they accepted their

  • medals and then raised their fists during the playing of the US national anthem, in

  • a protest full of symbolism.

  • And they almost didn't even show up that year.

  • Members of the team threatened to stay home, in protest of racist treatment of Black athletes

  • in America.

  • The story of this silent protest, and the boycott that almost was, starts with the buttons

  • all three medal winners wore that day:

  • The Olympic Project for Human Rights.

  • The Olympic Project for Human Rights, or OPHR, was founded in 1967 by sociologist, educator,

  • and former star athlete Dr. Harry Edwards.

  • It was a coalition of prominent Olympic athletes that threatened to derail American Olympic

  • glory by opting out of the games.

  • To protest the racism in sports that had for decades gone unaddressed.

  • In the mid-20th century, sports seemed to be a leading example of improved racial equality

  • in the United States.

  • Black athletes like football player Kenny Washington and baseball player Jackie Robinson

  • broke racial barriers by joining professional leagues in 1946 and 1947.

  • Which until that point, had been whites only.

  • College and professional sports teams gradually integrated from there

  • years ahead of racial segregation legally ending in the United States.

  • So the media began to promote the Black athlete as a symbol that racial democracy existed

  • in the United States.

  • And so it was kind of a factor that was used to dismiss the question of institutionalized

  • racism.

  • But in the 1960s, the myth of racial progress in America began to dissolve.

  • The Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation in 1964, but Black Americans continued to

  • face institutionalized racism and police brutality.

  • Integration simply wasn't successful in improving Black people's lives, and you

  • needed to force further change.

  • Years of frustration ultimately erupted in widespread violent riots.

  • I think the further we get away from it, we underestimate the influence of the riots.

  • The riots happened in a lot of urban cities across America.

  • Black people still live in terrible socioeconomic conditions in the cities.

  • And that was just as much a problem as Jim Crow laws.

  • So how do you attract attention to that?

  • A growing Black Power movement and Black student movement in the 1960s emboldened Black athletes

  • to speak up about the racial injustices they endured off

  • the field.

  • But with the 1968 Olympics coming up, black athletes saw an opportunity to push for change.

  • The the idea of a black Olympic boycott had been around since 1959.

  • And it went through various fits and stops until you get to the first Black Power Conference

  • in 1967.

  • And the Black Power Conference basically argued that you should use any means possible to

  • force the government to pay attention to institutionalized racism.

  • For Harry Edwards, that meant organizing the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

  • He realized that he could use Black sports participation as a way to attract attention

  • to the problem. The OPHR had 5 key demands, among them being

  • to disinvite South Africa and Rhodesia, two countries practicing apartheid, from competing

  • in the games,

  • the removal of openly racist International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage,

  • and hiring Black coaches to US teams.

  • The potential boycott became a hot topic in the news

  • and of debate among athletes.

  • In the months leading up to the games in Mexico City, the OPHR kept members of the press guessing

  • whether they would attend or not.

  • Ultimately, it came down to a vote.

  • The decision was made that if there wasn't a kind of unified or the majority of Black

  • athletes would participate, the boycott would be called off.

  • Because those who did boycott, like Tommie Smith, would have been boycotting in vain.

  • Another Black person simply would have taken their place.

  • Even though most of the OPHR's demands remained unmet, the athletes headed to Mexico City,

  • with plans to make their own demonstration if the opportunity arose.

  • Which it didon October 16th, following the men's 200 meter final.

  • OPHR members Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze, respectively, and Smith

  • set a new world record.

  • After the race, they solemnly approached the medal stand

  • shoeless, wearing black socks...

  • ...accepted their medals....

  • ...and, just as the US National Anthem began to play, did this:

  • [Star-Spangled Banner playing]

  • For the full duration of the Star-Spangled Banner, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads

  • and each raised a black-gloved fist in the airto protest the racial injustice in

  • their home country, and show solidarity with those fighting for equality.

  • [Star-Spangled Banner playing]

  • The fists are not the only symbolic gesture in this image, as Tommie Smith explained later:

  • The right glove signified the power within Black America.

  • The left glove signified Black unity.

  • The scarf that was worn around my neck signified Blackness.

  • John Carlos and me wore black socks without shoes to also signify our poverty.

  • Additionally, John Carlos wore his jacket unzipped – a violation of Olympic etiquette

  • to show solidarity with working class Americans.

  • He also wore black beadsto honor victims of lynching.

  • And finally, all three medal winners, including silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia,

  • wore

  • Buttons reading Olympic Project for Human Rights. The were some boos in the stadium

  • last night.

  • This moment was the ultimate manifestation of the work of Harry Edwards and the OPHR

  • to intersect outspoken political activism with sport.

  • And it ended Smith and Carlos' Olympics.

  • The International Olympic Committee suspended them Friday, their credentials were taken

  • away, and they were told they could not stay in Mexico.

  • They were dropped from the US Olympic team...

  • ...and given 48 hours to leave Mexico.

  • Sports journalist Howard Cosell criticized the US Olympic Committee's decision in this

  • fiery broadcast from Mexico City.

  • But the Black athlete says he is a human being before he is an athlete.

  • That he wants equality everywhere, not just within the arena.

  • Tommie Smith and John Carlos were saying, “Black athletes don't have it made in

  • American society.”

  • We may be famous, but we face the same discrimination that other Black people do.

  • And we don't appreciate being used as a way to counter the Black struggle coming out

  • of Black communities.”

  • Black athletes are Black.

  • People have multiple identities.

  • I think Colin Kaepernick is representing a voice in the Black community which is the

  • same thing I think that Carlos and Smith were saying.

  • That the Black struggle is more than just about integration and assimilation, it's

  • also about empowering this particular community.

  • And people like Tommie Smith, Harry Edwards, John Carlos, came from poor Black communities.

  • Which is why this protest on the Olympic medal stand wasn't just about sports.

  • As Tommie Smith explained to Howard Cosell the next day.

  • Do you think you represented all Black athletes in doing this?

  • I can say I represented Black America.

  • I'm very proud to be a Black man, and also to have won a gold medal.

  • And this, I thought, I could represent my people by letting them know that I'm proud

  • to be a Black man.

The 1968 US Olympic track and field team is considered one of the greatest ever assembled

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The story behind this iconic Olympics protest

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/07/28
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