Tommie Smith, who stood on the top step of the 1968 Olympic 200m podium, his black-gloved right fist raised, hopes that all athletes can learn from the history made that night in Mexico City.
“Think first before you act,” Smith recently told an NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Then move with the justice of freedom. Move with the idea of we are one.”
When Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos raised their fists, wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights buttons along with Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, they were calling attention to people being oppressed around the world.
“What we stood for in 1968, here we are in 2020, and it’s come full circle back to what we said,” Carlos told NBC Sports track and field analyst Ato Boldon. “What you’ve seen, not only here in the United States but worldwide, and that is a rainbow coalition and that is humanity live and in living color.”
U.S. athletes recently either raised a first or kneeled on a podium at the Pan American Games last summer. In summer 2021, it’s possible that athletes make similar demonstrations at the Tokyo Games.
The Olympic Charter states that protests and demonstrations — including “of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling” — are currently not permitted. IOC President Thomas Bach said last week that the IOC Athletes’ Commission will talk with athletes around the world to explore how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind.
Carlos, who turned 75 on June 5, supports athlete demonstrations done respectfully.
“As long as you don’t do an obscene statement,” he said. “I think you earned your right, as an Olympian, a guy that sacrificed so much to do so much for so many in order just to have that medal.
“As long as it’s not distasteful, and I don’t think the Olympic Committee, international or national, would have the right to take your 15 minutes out of the sun and tell you what you can and what you can’t do.”
Smith said he wouldn’t be disappointed if there were no athlete protests in Tokyo.
“I would be disappointed if I see something and think that someone else told them to do it,” said Smith, who turned 76 on June 6. “It has to come from their heart to do it for the people.”
Smith said that the reaction to the killing of George Floyd brought back the feelings he had on the podium in Mexico City, according to The New York Times. Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Olympics for the demonstration.
“All I did was stand there with a fist in the air,” Smith said, according to the newspaper. “It was a cry for freedom. And now people are beginning to throw a right fist up and throw it up for different reasons, but now they have the freedom to do it.”
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