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wejo
co-founder
For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 11:07AM Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I watched the ESPN special on them and thought it was great. I felt a tremendous amount of pride for them and felt they represent what America in its ideal is about.

It seems so simple. They put themselves at tremendous risk to stand up for the universal right that all races should be treated equally. They should be in the Olympic Hall of Fame. Talk about courage and bravery.

But I knew I was seeing this from the rearview mirror 40 years later. I wonder what some of you who were around at that tim, thought of their actions, and whether your views have changed over time.

We've already received one email from a guy who was really upset we praised them on our homepage.
gonzo
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 11:16AM - in reply to wejo Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was 12-13 years old and thought: why are they doing that? It seemed disrespectful to my innocent young mind, I considered the Olympics a place where all that was left out of the picture. Of course that was before Munich.

Interesting you should ask that after Eric Holder (the new Attorney General) commented on Americans being "cowards" when it some to discussing race.

You becoming a LIBERAL wejo?
old tymer
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 11:30AM - in reply to wejo Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I also watched the show, with strong if somewhat mixed feelings. I was 16 in 1968, and followed every second of the Mexico City Games. We all knew that protest talk was in the air--it had been from at least the time of the Olympic Trials that summer. When Smith and Carlos took the stand, their gesture was a genuine shock--it was so bold, simple, and definitive. I was of mixed feeling about the whole thing at the time, but have come to truly admire their courage and political conviction. (The idea that the Olympics must and should be separated from all politics is just a fantasy: it never has been, and it can never be.) However, as the recent film makes pretty clear, Smith and Carlos had no true idea of how their action would be received. There was, in my opinion, a rather hysterical reaction by the USOC, the IOC, the media, and a fair percentage of the public. The net result is that the protest has come to "define" them, historically, in a way that few could have predicted before it happened. What all that obscures is how great they were (Smith, in particular)--and I wish the recent show had shown even more vintage footage of him running.
The first facts
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 11:47AM - in reply to wejo Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Wejo, you're being spoon-fed revisionist history. Smith and Carlos weren't heroes, they were militant racist jerks.
quantum
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 11:47AM - in reply to old tymer Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was 9 years old. I am now a conservative. While I didn't think the Olympics was perhaps the best place for a political protest, I felt for their plight and thought they were by and large heroes. My father was a track coach so I was fairly keyed into just how good they were.

There was real promise and hope in that civil rights era.

Nothing has disappointed me more than after the billions upon billions in social programs spent since then, including some heavy doses of race preferences in employment and education, to observe that gaps in education, dysfunction (including fatherless homes) and especially crime have grown with respect to our black citizens. And a great deal of it is self-inflicted.

I am saddened that this is now the legacy of courageous athletes like Smith and Carlos.
jsquire
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 12:55PM - in reply to quantum Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I don't know where you got your numbers, but mine came from
http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/education/cps2007/tabA-2.xls
Table A-2. Percent of People 25 Years and Over Who Have Completed High School or College, by Race, Hispanic Origin and Sex: Selected Years 1940 to 2007
It shows 82.3% for blacks in 2007 and 30.1% in 1968. For comparison's sake, the "all races" numbers are 85.7% and 52.6% respectively. Looks to me like a remarkable step forward in 40 years, and if trends continue the gap will be essentially zero in a few years.
marijuologist
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 1:02PM - in reply to jsquire Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
At the time, there was a place for black militance.
Camoo
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 1:21PM - in reply to marijuologist Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was 18 at the time and living in Connecticut. I actually knew John Carlos somewhat, since he had made the rounds of Northeast meets right before developing into a world class star. I thought Tommie Smith and his fellow San Jose State teammate and 1968 gold medalist Lee Evans were amazingly talented, graceful, and dignified athletes.
I was already actively opposed to the Vietnam "conflict" and had great admiration for the Civil Rights leaders of the era. I was in my first year of college, off on my own and able to form my own impressions.
To answer your question, I thought what Smith and Carlos did was just fine, and actually rather tame, and I was amazed at the fuss raised over it. In view of everything that had been discussed - including a boycott of the Games by Black Americans, which I would NOT have wanted to see - I thought it was quite restrained, and even respectful ...remember, Smith and Carlos were actually concerned enough to NOT embarrass the Australian Peter Norman, who in fact quietly supported their gesture.
I was enough of a fan and follower of track and field to already think of Avery Brundage as a villain, which he most certainly was for all sorts of reasons, including his preposterous defense of amateurism (which actually extended far beyond any actual payments for racing...check out Lee Calhoun's bio to see what I mean). Brundage's bluster and extreme reaction to what Smith and Carlos did was what offended me. Obviously, I believed the punishment given to these 200-meter medalists was very much unwarranted.
I thought Smith and Carlos were heroes in 1968, and I still do.
jsquire
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 1:23PM - in reply to marijuologist Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was not alive at the time, so I'm merely reporting what I've read... BUT take what you get from ESPN with a grain of salt.

The film overplayed Carlos' importance in the Olympic Project for Human Rights and underplayed the importance of Lee Evans. It also pumped up Harry Edwards' importance, who the OPHR organizers felt was an overbearing self-serving jerk by the middle of 1968.

Probably the best source for inside info on the OPHR, the protest, and everything surrounding it is "The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City" by Frank Murphy. (Let's Runners know him as the author of "A Cold Clear Day" and "The Silence of Great Distance".)

This letter to Track & Field News, written by Bruce Kidd in January 1968, offers up what old-timers thought at the time.
http://www.trackandfieldnews.com/display_article.php?id=2354
formerly present
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 1:37PM - in reply to old tymer Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Like old tymer, I was 16 in 1968. Though I had spent the summer in Flagstaff (with Ryun et al.), by the time the Games took place I was in the middle of the Pacific and did not get to see any of the OG action. We heard about stuff days or weeks later, and so their protest just didn't have the immediacy for us that it might have had if we'd seen it "live" (so called) on TV.

I'll agree, however, that stuff like their protest was "in the air," so in context it did not strike me as particularly remarkable. Coming on the heels of burning cities, the death of MLK, and the rise of Black Power, it seemed to fit right in. And bear in mind that there'd already been a substantial boycott of the US team by American blacks, including Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

[By coincidence, the following summer I was on the same campus as Harry Edwards, who was finishing his Ph.D. and had been the moving force behind the boycott and the protest by Smith and Carlos. It was hard to miss him--he was a very large person. More on Edwards here:
http://cornellalumnimagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=161 ]
Algritodeguerra
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 1:40PM - in reply to wejo Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
The '68 Olympics were the most vivid Olympics of my childhood. One of the first televised in the same time zone as the US. It was the Olympics of Jim Ryun, Kip Keino, the sprinters from San Jose, Puma Brush Spikes, BOB BEAMON!, Bob Seagren, Dick Fosbury, Altitude, Ralph F'n Doubel, Jim Hines, 4x400 magic, Madeline Manning, Ron Clark, Kenyan Steeplers jumping completely over the water; all vivid images. I admit that Smith and Carlos fist raising was disturbing to me, although many had expected some kind of demonstration, my thoughts as a teenager were that the Olympics were a sacred place with no politics allowed. Almost like screaming something out in church. My view has changed since then, realizing the power of such an image to help shed light on social injustice. I remember thinking it was harsh for Smith and Carlos to be banned from the Games, but only because I wanted to see them compete again in the relays.
Jayhawk
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 1:59PM - in reply to Algritodeguerra Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was 12 years old and grew up in a lilly white town in Kansas. I was following the Olympic build up closely because of Jim Ryun. Harry Edwards was a pivotal player despite what's been posted so far. I was concerned that American black athletes would boycott the games. For those of you old enough to recall Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did just that.

At the time I understood why Smith and Carlos did what they did. I think Avery Brundage was a Nazi, and I mean Nazi and what it stands for. U.S. track and field athletes both black and white were nothing but slaves of the A.A.U. and U.S.O.C. I admired their courage then just as I admire it now.

I think some of you old enough have forgotten just how racist America was in 1968.
satch the old black dude
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 2:06PM - in reply to Jayhawk Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
whole thing,then and now ,was overated- especially by whites- really changed nothing -
Stymie
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 2:42PM - in reply to satch the old black dude Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I guess we really came along way for the better. I think statistics has black and white crime ratios pretty even.
old guy II
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 2:55PM - in reply to satch the old black dude Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was an 18 year old, slow 220, 440 white kid in Southern California in 1968. Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Lee Evans were athletic heroes to me at that time. I had the chance to meet Lee Evans and Tommie Smith at a meet at the LA Coliseum in '67 or '68 (they let you go down on the coliseum track after the events were over) and they were polite and patient with the white kids asking for their autographs, as most elite athletes are. I thought that their Mexico City protest was a gesture that was dramatic without being disrespectful of the Olympics or the US. The country still was substantially segregated at that time and blacks were treated very differently. I think that most people who supported equal rights felt that the protest was appropriate and justified, and those who were racist thought that it was wrong. Most people in the athletic community thought that Avery Brundage was a petty tyrant in amateur sports who should have been retired years earlier.
Weary
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 3:10PM - in reply to Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
The cynicism of some of you is nowhere near being clever or attractive.
In the context of 1968, I think it's pretty hard to argue that what Smith and Carlos did was excessive or inappropriate. I don't necessarily expect people who weren't around at the the time to understand that.
As much as some of us have our differences with people who control our sport now, including USATF (which I'd like to see abolished), it's hard to overestimate how horrible the situation used to be. Brundage was almost a comic book archetype of a villain; all he was missing was a curly mustache. It really is not - and you have to trust me on this - hyperbole to say that he tried to make athletes' lives as miserable as possible.
HRE
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 3:12PM - in reply to wejo Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I was 16 and was sort of a fan of Tommie Smith's. But Carlos never appealed to me. I can't exactly remember why. What I recall is that Smith hurt himself in the semis and there was serious question as to whether he would even run in the final let alone win. That race made him, in my mind, the best 200 runner ever.
When he and Carlos made their gesture I admired them. Carlos went up in my estimation. I thought it was a courageous gesture yet completely non-violent. Remember that we'd had major race riots in the preceding 15 months or so. I also believed that there should be no mixing of the Olympics and politics so there was a problematic aspect to what they did but that the IOC overreacted and should simply have reprimaded them and perhaps warned that any similar demonstrations would result in expulsion.
Olg Deezer
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 3:21PM - in reply to HRE Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
It hasn't been mentioned yet, but 4 years later, not much had changed as far as the Olympics were concerned. When Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett got first and second in the 400 in 1972, they didn't really "demonstrate" on the medals stand but they didn't stand at attention; they were very casually chatting through the anthem. The IOC said they couldn't compete in the Games anymore - which, combined with an injury to John Smith, meant the U.S. had no 4x400 relay.
The U.S. would have swept that 400 if Smith, who made it to the final but couldn't finish, hadn't been hurt. I wonder if he would have acted as Matthews and Collett did.
turku
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 3:42PM - in reply to Olg Deezer Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
In 1968, I was a 22 year old, just getting into promoting and coaching in track & field. We had scheduled an Olympic warm-up Meet in Victoria, BC, Canada, about 3 weeks before the Games, and for some reason, I was sent to the USA Olympic Trials at Echo Summit, to try and recruit some athletes.
After about a 9-hour travel day, I missed the 200 by Carlos, and the Pole Vault WR by Seagren by a matter of minutes.
As far as racism, it was unbelievable. I remember some serious tension, almost becoming violent, over measurements taken at the LJ pit, depending on whether the white guy or the black guy would make the team.
Anyways....the trip was successful - we somehow managed to convince the American Coaches to bring about 20 athletes to Canada to compete, 3 weeks before the Games in Mexico City. To the best of my recollection, only Jay Sylvester, Wade Bell, and Larry Questad were white, and we were told that most of the black sprinters were sent, in order to get them out of the racially-charged atmosphere that existed in the USA at that time.
Carlos ran the 100 and the 200, and beat Olympic silver medallist Lennox Miller of Jamaica in both. Hand times on a new/soft rubber-asphalt track were 10.1 and 20.4
Smith ran the 400, running a very easy 45.4, and then took the baton from Carlos as the USA 'B' team ran down the USA 'A' team, 39.1 to win. Yes, that was the same USA 'A' Team that won the gold medal in Mexico City, with 3 co-World record holders --- Greene, Robinson, and Hines.
There was a lot of controversy about putting Carlos and Smith on the relay teams, and both guys were upset about not being included. I can tell you that Carlos and Smith made up about 4 metres over the last 2 legs on the USA teams that won the gold medal, and no-one was taking it easy, believe me...
jsquire, think again..
RE: For the Old Timers: What Did You Think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 2/21/2009 4:00PM - in reply to jsquire Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
jsquire - the gaps are a national tragedy. It pains me to even think about it - we were truly excited about Martin Luther King and the promise of a post-racial society and real improvements for black citizens (there has been some, I'll admit). I remember the time clearly; and particularly King's clarion call to burn the midnight oil in learning and education. I am not a minority, but was inspired by MLK's call to justice. My elementary school in the northern suburbs of Chicago was about 70% Jewish (I was not) - and the teachers were well ahead of their time - we had a real consciousness about individual justice, and Carlos and Smith embodied what peaceful protest was about. A special time.

Read this latest City Journal article. You may not like its politics (I don't agree with all of it, either), but the facts are dismal, and to deny them is silly.

http://www.city-journal.org/2009/eon0219hm.html

Again, to my mind Smith and Carlos were heroes. But I really thought it was the dawn of something much more promising.
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