How Tommie Smith went from the Olympics to the NFL

Tommie Smith
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When 1968 Olympic 200m champion Tommie Smith returned home from Mexico City, he had no job. He knew why.

“Because of the victory stand,” he said in the new documentary “With Drawn Arms,” which tells his story.

Smith, now 76, is best remembered for raising a black-gloved fist, along with bronze medalist John Carlos, on the medal stand. What happened in Smith’s life after that is just as much a part of the film and detailed in Peter King‘s “Football Morning in America” this week.

“The only job I could get was at All-American Pontiac,” in his home of San Jose, Calif., Smith said in the film.

A large sign in front of the dealership let visitors know they could meet the Olympic gold medalist. Smith put on a red bow tie and greeted them as if he was a salesman.

“But my job was detailing and washing cars,” Smith said. “I was there so people would come in and identify themselves with Tommie Smith. Then I would go back out in the back and continue washing cars.”

One day in 1969, Smith received a call from Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Walsh (who later built a Hall of Fame career guiding the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s). Walsh wanted to know if Smith would like to try out for the team.

Smith had been an elite football player, but that was several years earlier in high school. He was drafted in the ninth round by the Los Angeles Rams in 1967 — and went to a camp as a running back — but the club was just one of the organizations to pass on him after what happened at the Olympics, he said.

Smith took up Walsh on the Bengals’ offer.

“When I got to Cincinnati, first thing they did is introduced me to [Hall of Fame coach] Paul Brown and they took me to the field for a long pass, a streak, they called it then,” Smith told King. “I outran the ball. I didn’t know a lot about football.”

They signed him anyway.

“It was a job,” Smith said. “I made $300 a week.”

Smith played in two games that first season — the last season before the Bengals’ American Football League merged with the NFL — and caught one pass for 41 yards. He separated one of his shoulders on the play. Smith never played another regular season game, getting cut the next year after the preseason.

“The first day back in Cincinnati, when all the players were moving into apartments, I received a call the morning, as soon as my furniture came up,” Smith, one of 43 Olympians to play in the NFL, recalled to King. “It was Bill Walsh telling me that Paul Brown had let me go. I was there in a rented apartment with no money, with a car on empty in the gas tank.”

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Taylor Fritz becomes crowd enemy at French Open

Taylor Fritz French Open

The French Open crowd was not happy with American player Taylor Fritz after he beat one of their own — indeed, their last man in the bracket — so they booed and whistle relentlessly. Fritz’s response? He told them to shush. Over and over again.

Fritz, a 25-year-old from California who is seeded No. 9 at Roland Garros, got into a back-and-forth with the fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen after his 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over 78th-ranked Arthur Rinderknech in the second round on Thursday night.

Rinderknech attempted a lob that landed long on the last point, and Fritz, who had been running toward the baseline to chase the ball, immediately looked up into the stands and pressed his right index finger to his lips to say, essentially, “Hush!”

He held that pose for a bit as he headed back toward the net for a postmatch handshake, then spread his arms wide, wind-milled them a bit as if to egg on the rowdiness, and yelled: “Come on! I want to hear it!”

During the customary winner’s on-court interview that followed, more jeers rained down on Fritz, and 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli kept pausing her attempts to ask a question into her microphone.

So Fritz again said, “Shhhhh!” and put his finger toward his mouth, while Bartoli unsuccessfully tried to get the spectators to lower their decibel level.

More boos. More whistles.

And the awkwardness continued as both Bartoli and a stadium announcer kept saying, “S’il vous plaît” — “Please!” — to no avail, while Fritz stood there with his arms crossed.

A few U.S. supporters with signs and flags drew Fritz’s attention from the front row, and he looked over and said to them, “I love you guys.”

But the interview was still on hold.

Bartoli tried asking a question in English, which only served to draw more boos.

So Fritz told her he couldn’t hear her. Bartoli moved closer and finally got out a query — but it didn’t seem to matter what her words were.

Fritz, who has been featured on the Netflix docuseries about tennis called “Break Point,” had his hands on his hips and a message on his mind — one reminiscent of Daniil Medvedev’s contretemps with fans at the 2019 U.S. Open.

“I came out and the crowd was so great honestly. Like, the crowd was just so great,” Fritz said, as folks tried to drown out his voice. “They cheered so well for me, I wanted to make sure that I won. Thanks, guys.”

And with that, he exited the stage.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

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French Open: Coco Gauff to face younger opponent for first time at a Grand Slam

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff‘s first 49 Grand Slam main draw singles matches were all against older opponents. Her 50th will be against a younger one.

The sixth-seeded Gauff reached the French Open third round by beating 61st-ranked Austrian Julia Grabher 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday. Gauff, 19, next plays 16-year-old Russian Mirra Andreeva in the round of 32 on Saturday.

“I don’t see age as a factor,” said Gauff, who has practiced with Andreeva. “When you step on the court, you just see your opponent, and you don’t really think about the personal side of things. You just see forehand, backhand, serve, and all the same.”

Gauff made her major debut at age 15 in 2019 by beating Venus Williams at Wimbledon. In her 15 majors, Gauff has usually been the youngest male or female singles player, including most recently at 2022 Wimbledon. She is still the lone teenager in the WTA top 49.

But that may soon change. Youngsters from the Czech Republic and Russia are on the rise. Such as Andreeva, who, at No. 143 in the world and climbing, is the highest-ranked player under the age of 18. And she doesn’t turn 17 until next April. Andreeva dropped just six games in her first two matches, fewest of any woman.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

But Gauff is still in a class of her own among her generation, having at last year’s French Open become the youngest major finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon at 17. She somehow flew somewhat under the radar into Paris this year with a 4-4 record this spring and in between full-time coaches.

She has now won back-to-back matches for the first time since March, rallying past 71st-ranked Spaniard Rebeka Masarova in the first round and then dispatching an error-prone Grabher, a runner-up at a low-level clay event last week.

The other three seeds in Gauff’s section have all lost, so she would not play a seed until the quarterfinals. And that would be No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who has won all 12 sets they’ve played, including in last year’s French Open final.

“I lost that final, and like for like a week or two, I really thought it was the worst thing ever,” Gauff said. “There’s no point in me revisiting last year. It’s in the past. It was a great tournament, but I’m looking forward for more this week.”

While the men’s draw has been upended by 14-time champion Rafael Nadal‘s pre-event withdrawal and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev‘s loss in the first round, the top women have taken care of business.

The top four seeds — Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, American Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan — all reached the third round without dropping a set.

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