Commentary Harry Edwards Institute for the Study  of Sport and Society John Carlos Locker Room Talk Mahmoud Abdul Rauf NAAMHC News Tommy smith Toni Smith-Thompson

50 years after Olympic protest, the activist message should not be commercialized — The Undefeated

50 years after Olympic protest, the activist message should not be commercialized — The Undefeated

This week the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of one among the most iconic moments in U.S. Olympic historical past: the demonstration by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the victory stand at the Mexico Metropolis Video games.

One other vital second unfolded on Oct. 18, 1968, when the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) ordered Smith and Carlos to go away the Olympic Village. Their expulsion marked the starting of a decade-long trek in the wilderness, marked by alienation, private tragedy and financial wrestle.

On Wednesday, Smith, Carlos, a number of of their 1968 Olympic teammates and educational activists converged on San Jose, California, to assist San Jose State College rejoice the 50th anniversary of the victory stand demonstration. As a part of the anniversary, the college’s Institute for the Research of Sport, Society and Social Change hosted three panels that coated the previous, current and way forward for athletic resistance and revolution.

There have been quite a lot of takeaways from the three-day occasion.

The first was that the USOC owes Smith and Carlos an extended overdue apology. The USOC is beneath assault, and rightfully so, for failing to guard dozens of gymnasts who have been sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics nationwide staff physician Larry Nassar. The USOC additionally did not deal with Smith and Carlos in 1968, when it rushed to judgment, yielded to strain from Avery Brundage and the Worldwide Olympic Committee, and despatched two younger black males on a path that almost destroyed their lives. That each one occurred for exercising their proper to free speech assured by a flag and anthem that they protested. Whereas Smith and Carlos have survived and prospered, the USOC has a gap in its ethical soul that continues to widen.

The second takeaway is that the NBA owes Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf an apology as nicely. The USOC’s remedy of Smith and Carlos is well-documented. The NBA’s mistreatment of Abdul-Rauf is much less well-known. At the moment, Abdul-Rauf known as the Stephen Curry of his era, a lethal outdoors shooter and one in every of the greatest free-throw shooters in league historical past.

The NBA is seen as the world’s most progressive sports activities league. However the league made a misstep with Abdul-Rauf that should be acknowledged, lest the league’s liberal facade be uncovered as simply that.

Starting in 1995, Abdul-Rauf refused to face for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” although his silent protest did not turn out to be information till 1996. He was suspended by the NBA in March 1996 and fined greater than $31,000 per recreation for every recreation he missed. He ultimately agreed to face throughout the anthem however was allowed to look downward. Like Smith and Carlos, Abdul-Rauf was the goal of threats and harassment. He was traded to Sacramento after the controversial 1995-96 season and stayed for 2 seasons. He started enjoying abroad in 1998, and returned to the NBA for one season in 2000, with Vancouver.

To say that his remedy was performance-based and had nothing to do with private politics would be disingenuous and insulting.

“You don’t have to give me an apology,’ Abdul-Rauf said on Wednesday. “Just do something so this won’t happen again. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.”

“Once my life is over,” he added, “if all that people can remember me for is ‘he had a mean crossover, or he had an amazing jump shot,’ I had a wasted life and I don’t want that to be my story.”


I used to be a part of a dialogue that included Abdul-Rauf, Keith Harrison, of the College of Central Florida, Toni Smith-Thompson, former basketball captain at Manhattanville School who’s now an organizer with the New York Civil Liberties Union and Damion Thomas, sports activities curator for the Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition (NAAMHC).

The thread that connects Smith and Carlos, with Abdul-Rauf in 1995, Smith-Thompson in 2003 and Colin Kaepernick in 2016 is an opposition to a system of oppression that marginalizes, exploits, co-opts and silences opposition.

Abdul-Rauf stated that when he started his protest in 1995, he was not conscious of what Smith and Carlos had finished in 1968. Nevertheless, Smith-Thompson stated she was conscious of Abdul-Rauf when she made her assertion at Manhattanville School in 2003.

She stated what drove her to show was the similar hypocrisy, represented by the flag and the anthem, that drove Smith and Carlos to show in 1968 and would drive Kaepernick in 2016. Warfare was being waged, the freedom and liberty on which the nation was constructed have been being strong-armed away. Individuals of colour have been merely a symptom of that slippage.

For 3 years, she stood as the anthem was performed earlier than video games “even though I know I don’t believe in this, that I have no affinity for it, it’s actually in contradiction with how I was raised and my values.”

Throughout her senior yr at Manhattanville, Smith-Thompson stated, sufficient. She realized that her participation, even in one thing as innocuous as standing at consideration, was condoning what she noticed as a poisonous type of nationalism.

“I was coming into my own activism and was telling myself ‘I’m an activist. I believe in justice. I really want black liberation.’ ” Protesting throughout the anthem, she stated, “was the first test for me to act in accordance with who I said I was.”


The San Jose State anniversary occasion additionally underscored the notion that controlling the message is important and that protest should be taken out of silos.

A 1968 headline on the entrance web page of The New York Occasions reporting that Smith and Carlos had been faraway from the Olympic Village introduced: Two Black Energy Advocates Ousted From Olympics.

In reality, the Smith and Carlos demonstration was about human rights. Lots of people in a number of locations have been being crushed and squeezed by these in energy who needed to violate human rights, get rid of justice, wage warfare and increase the American empire.

As the panel wound down, the topic of the current Nike advert that includes Kaepernick was raised.

The views expressed underlined the challenges dealing with modern athletes at a time when protest has grow to be attractive and probably worthwhile.

“I think Colin should be celebrated for not only what he has done but continues to do,” Abdul-Rauf stated. However he added, “When you look at corporations like that, I’m skeptical. Sometimes those types of things can tend to soften you if you’re not careful.”

Smith-Thompson stated that when she first watched the advert, “The first thing I asked myself was ‘What is this commercial selling?’ ” She observed in the advert that every athlete, besides Kaepernick, was depicted in the position that impressed their presence: Serena Williams was depicted a mom and LeBron James for his work together with his faculty. Kaepernick was not proven kneeling throughout the nationwide anthem, which is what he’s recognized for.

In Smith-Thompson’s view, the Nike advert “is not selling activism, not selling challenging the systems of power. It’s selling inspiration, going beyond limitations, beating expectations. That’s not the same as challenging systems of power.”

However Harrison stated the appreciated the advert’s message of inspiration.

Thomas, the curator of sports activities at the NAAMHC, stated that in a extremely commercialized period of shifting allegiances, you’re taking companions the place you discover them. He acknowledged that Nike was a big donor to the museum.

“Sometimes you have to think about the partners who are available to you,” he stated. “You have to develop partnerships not only with people who are 100 percent in line with you. Sometimes you have to make partnerships with people who will allow you to articulate part of your ideas.”

The power, idealism, braveness and recklessness of youth are very important to protest and resistance.

At the occasion, there was a mix of activist athletes of their 60s and 70s, younger activists and teachers of their 30s and 40s. How do sages and elders put together younger athletes to navigate the difficult waters of finance and energy and train them to make use of their platforms to name consideration to social justice points?

The power, idealism, braveness and recklessness of youth are very important to protest and resistance. Smith and Carlos have been 24 and 23 years previous once they demonstrated in Mexico Metropolis in 1968; Harry Edwards was all of 25 when he based the Olympic Challenge for Human Rights and orchestrated the Olympic boycott. Abdul-Rauf was 26 years previous when he started his silent protest in the NBA, Smith-Thompson was 21 in 2003 when she demonstrated at Manhattanville.

Harrison says he continuously asks himself: “How can I broaden the identity of these athletes so they can use their platforms to make society better and not just ball out, buy stuff and be supermaterialistic?”

The extra cogent query is how do sports activities leagues with younger athletes — many athletes of shade — react to the inevitable protests to return? How will Main League Baseball cope with its 33 % Latino presence when it’s lastly pushed to the brink by a hostile immigration coverage? How will the NFL and the NBA — sure, the NBA — cope with an more and more boisterous black presence? With an iron fist? With the menace of financial retaliation?

Tommie Smith and John Carlos landed on the proper aspect of historical past. The USOC did not and continues to be on the fallacious aspect.

”We needed to do one thing that may be profound and but nonetheless nonviolent that may radiate all through society,” Carlos stated Wednesday. “I think, 50 years later, we hit the nail on the head.”

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Certainly they did, as did Abdul-Rauf.

Time and present circumstances have confirmed all of them proper.

On this 50th yr of celebration, they deserve an apology.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports activities columnist for The New York Occasions and writer of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” is a writer-at-large for The Undefeated. Contact him at [email protected]