John Carlos, the 1968 Olympic 200m bronze medalist who, along with gold medalist Tommie Smith, was kicked out of the Games for raising a black-gloved first on the podium, admires the athletes who boycotted competition Wednesday and Thursday over racial injustice.
“I respect the hell out of them,” Carlos, 75, said, according to Time. “Because you have to squeeze the toothpaste tube to get people to respond. And their boycotting lets the powers that be, whether it’s the NBA or any professional organization or corporate entity, know that they need to raise their voices. They need to get serious about the situation.”
Athletes, who have spoken out about racism for months, took protests to a different level Wednesday, three days after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
It began with the Milwaukee Bucks, who chose in the afternoon not to play a playoff game scheduled against the Orlando Magic. The other two NBA games were later postponed. Then all three scheduled WNBA games were postponed.
Three MLB games were not played. Other MLB games had finished, were in progress or were just about to start as the other announcements were made. Some individual baseball players sat out games that were held.
Five of the six scheduled MLS games were postponed.
Late Wednesday night, tennis star Naomi Osaka announced she withdrew from a Thursday semifinal of a tournament that has now been paused.
“I would hope that the thing snowballs,” Carlos said, according to USA Today.
Before the Mexico City Olympics, a boycott by Black athletes over human rights was discussed. Smith reportedly committed to it early on, but a large-scale boycott did not come to fruition.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar declined to try out for the 1968 Olympic basketball team, in between his junior and senior years at UCLA, citing multiple reasons for not feeling very patriotic.
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I did go and we won, I’d be bringing honor to the country that was denying our rights,” he wrote in his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me.”
Some U.S. Olympians who did compete in Mexico City did protest, and it wasn’t limited to Smith and Carlos. Wyomia Tyus, who won the 100m and 4x100m, substituted white, team-issued shorts for black ones. Ralph Boston accepted his long jump bronze medal while in bare feet.
Smith and Carlos marched to their podium with head-to-toe statements.
Smith wore a scarf for Black pride. Carlos’ black shirt, covering his USA uniform, was “to illustrate my shame of America.” The beads around Carlos’ neck: “It was about love first of all. But then foremost it was about the lynchings that had taken place throughout the South for so many years,” he said.
“We wanted to put the gloves on to let ’em know that, yes, we’re here representing America. We’re here representing the Olympics,” Carlos said in 2018. “But we’re here more folks representing Black people and Black pride.”
Smith and Carlos were ordered to leave the Olympic Village after the protest. They received death threats.
“They ain’t trying to tear the arena down,” Carlos said of today’s athletes, according to USA Today. “They ain’t trying to destroy America. All they’re doing is crying out by saying, ‘Enough is enough. And if you won’t do something, we will.'”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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