When it comes to athletes using their platforms to bring attention to social injustices and the plight of African Americans in the United States, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos led the way on an international stage. In 1968 when they stood on the medal stand at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City and raised their fists as a symbol of protest and pride, they were expelled. Sound familiar? Now, 51 years later, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is admitting their wrong and bestowing their highest honor upon the two trailblazers by inducting them into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
Smith and Carlos won gold and silver medals respectively in the 200 meter as members of the San Jose State track team. Instead of using their moment on the podium to gloat in their victory or to revel in the fact that Smith had broken the world record, they chose to wear black gloves, raise their fists and bow their heads. Beside them also stood silver medalist, Peter Norman of Australia, who joined them in their silent protest by wearing a badge for human rights. He too was ostracized in the months and years to follow as a result.
Carlos took to his Facebook page to announce the Olympic’s decision to bestow the honor with one word: FINALLY.
In an email to the Washington Post, Dave Zirin, co-author of Carlos’s autobiography expressed how the overdue recognition was a move in the right direction for the committee.
“Carlos and Smith have been proven correct by history,” Zirin said in the email. “They were correct that South Africa and Rhodesia should not be allowed into the Olympics. They were correct that Avery Brundage was a racist who had no business heading the IOC. They were correct that the injustices of 1968 demanded a visceral and visual response. This is a case of the USOC finally acknowledging the nose on its face.”
The ceremony will be the first since 2012. Carlos and Smith will be a part of the 16th class to be inducted into the Hall. Lisa Leslie will also be honored alongside numerous other athletes who have represented the United States in the Olympic Games throughout the years.
This is truly a case of long overdue, however we’re glad Tommie Smith and John Carlos continue to get the recognition and honor they deserve for using their platform and taking a stand on the world’s stage.
photo credit: AP | Kevork Djansezian