50 years ago, two pairs of black socks and two raised fists were all it took to show the world how a group of people felt. In that amazing moment two men, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, created one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history but also a milestone in America’s civil rights movement. It was powerful, it was understated and it came with out any boycotts or bloodshed.
By today’s standards, the protest seems fairly tame, but in 1968 Smith and Carlos were met with such outrage that they were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village. They also faced death threats and were banished from sports for many years after the Mexico City Olympics. It is also interesting to note that Peter Norman, who is white, participated in the protest by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge.
What does this have to do with current world events? Everything. Reading the sports pages today tells a story of billionaire business owners forcing black athletes to stand for a flag that has meant oppression, racism, and a history of enslavement for many of them. It seems that the only people who are not being asked are the athletes. You know – the athletes? The people who have been training their whole lives to play a sport that will likely leave them with debilitating brain injuries, for our entertainment and as a means to gamble.
It feels as if we are going backwards rather than forwards in Donald Trump’s America. Today, a black man can be killed for the simple act of holding a cellphone in his own backyard. Yes we all know the stories, but as a citizen of Canada (albeit with it’s own checked past in it’s treatment of indigenous people) I cannot help but look south and feel helpless. I am not trying to editorialize, I am merely stating facts, and how I feel.
Watching a group of rich white men tell a group of adult males with the constitutional right to free speech and free expression, many of them people of color, to stand or to get off the plantation forces me to strongly consider boycotting the NFL.
The ability to speak ones own mind is what separates us from brutal, repressive regimes around the world. It is what makes us unique, that an individual can choose to use their moment, platform, or spotlight to protest an injustice or to make a statement. Just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos did in Mexico City in 1968, but without the fear of being ostracized or censored.