197: Human Rights Protest at the 1968 Olympics

"John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman 1968cr" by Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers) - http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/the-american-sprinters-tommie-smith-john-carlos-and-peter-news-photo/186173327. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Carlos,_Tommie_Smith,_Peter_Norman_1968cr.jpg#/media/File:John_Carlos,_Tommie_Smith,_Peter_Norman_1968cr.jpg
American sprinters Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos, right, hold their fists in the air in protest during the medals ceremony for the men’s 200 meters at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City on Oct. 17, 2968. (Angelo Cozzi/Mondadori Publishers via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the United States won gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200 meters at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

During the medal ceremony, the Americans raised their black-gloved fists above their bowed heads during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” All three medalists, including Australian Peter Norman, who finished second, wore human rights badges on their jackets.

Here are some things you may not have known about that historic moment and the men who participated.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were members of a group called the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which protested against racial segregation in the United States and southern Africa, and racism in sports in general. The group proposed a boycott of the 1968 Summer Games unless four conditions were met: South Africa and Rhodesia excluded from the games, Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title restored, the resignation of International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage and more black assistant coaches hired. In the end, South Africa and Rhodesia were excluded, but none of the other conditions were met.

Smith and Carlos decided to run, but stage a protest if either earned a medal.

Smith, who held the world record in the 200 meters, was battling a hamstring injury,  but passed Carlos coming off the turn. He went on to better his own world record and win the gold medal. The Australian, Peter Norman was second, and Carlos was third.

Smith and Carlos had intended on wearing gloves on both hands, but Carlos forgot his at the Olympic Village. Norman, who wore a Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the ceremony, suggested that Carlos wear Smith’s left glove. The Americans raised their fists during the national anthem. They were booed by the crowd as they left the podium.

Brundage, the IOC president, ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the American team and banned from the Olympic Village. The team refused, and Brundage, who made no objection to Nazi salutes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, threatened to ban the entire American team. The team relented and Smith and Carlos were expelled.

Smith and Carlos received death threats upon their return to the United States. Smith went on to play for the Cincinnati Bengals of the American Football League and then became an assistant professor at Oberlin College. Carlos played for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and worked with the organizing committee for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He later became track and field coach at Palm Springs High School.

Norman was reprimanded by the Australian team for his gesture. Despite setting 18 qualifying times for the 1972 Olympics, he was not selected to participate. In 1985, he nearly had his leg amputated after a racing injury and he fell into depression, alcoholism and pain-killer addiction.

In 2000 he was not asked to participate in ceremonies surrounding the Sydney Olympics. After that snub, the United States invited him to attend as a guest of the American delegation.  He died in 2006 of a heart attack at the age of 64. Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral.

Our question, The 1972 Summer Olympics were held in what city?

Today is World Food Day and World Anesthesia Day. In the United States, it’s unofficially National Dictionary Day, National Feral Cat Day and National Mammography Day. It’s the birthday of writer Oscar Wilde, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and actress Angela Lansbury.


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