By Willie Spears
Last week was John Carlos’s and Tommie Smith’s birthday. Carlos was born June 5, 1945, and Tommie Smith was born June 6, 1944. In the resurgence of social awareness in sports, Carlos and Smith could be considered two of the patriarchs.
During the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Mexico, Carlos and Smith gave what Smith called “a human rights salute”, while others recognize their jester as a Black Power salute atop the medal podium to protest racism and injustice against African-Americans in the United States.
Although they won medals at the Olympics, they felt they were not winning at home.
You may agree or disagree with their methods, but what we all can agree on is the importance of winning at home. Last week also marked the fifth anniversary of the passing of another social justice patriarch in sports, Muhammad Ali. Ali won a gold medal as Cassius Clay in the 1960 Olympics held in Rome, Italy. He was born and raised in segregated Louisville, Kentucky. He complained about the ambivalent honor of being a world champion who could not receive service at a restaurant in his hometown because of the color of his skin. He won in Rome but was not a winner at home.
Smith was proud to call the United States his home. He is a track and field legend born in Texas and went to high school and college in California. He ran a 10.1 in the 100-meter dash, a 19.83 in the 200-meter dash and a 44.5 in the 400-meter dash. These times were among the best in the world in the late 1960s. At the 1968 Summer Olympics, Smith, aged 24, won the 200-meter sprint finals and gold medal in 19.83 seconds — the first time the 20-second barrier was broken officially.
As a former track and field coach, I will tell you that John Carlos lost his form in the last 10 meters of the race, which may have caused him to come in third place. However, there is no denying the incredible speed of the silver medalist from Australia, Peter Norman.
Norman wore a badge on the podium to support the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). After the final, Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony.
As journalist Martin Flanagan wrote, “They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They asked him if he believed in God. Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, said he believed strongly in God. We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, ‘I’ll stand with you.'”
Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes. He did not; instead, he saw love.
On the way to the medal ceremony, Norman saw the OPHR badge being worn by Paul Hoffman, a white member of the U.S. rowing team and asked him if he could wear it. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute after Carlos left his pair at the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist while Carlos raised his left.
When Norman died in 2006, Carlos and Smith flew to Melbourne, Australia, to serve as pallbearers at his funeral. Carlos called Norman his white brother.
All three winners were punished for their stance. The International Olympic Committee banned Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Games for life, and Norman’s omission from Australia’s Olympic team in 1972 was allegedly his punishment. All three athletes are obvious winners but failed to win at home in the eyes of the establishment.
Three ways to Win At Home:
1. Show empathy.
2. Don’t just look out for yourself, but the interest of others.
3. Represent your home well even when you are away from home.
I don’t know about you, but I want to win at home.
I am praying for you and your family.
Win At Home is a series of opinion articles written by author and motivational speaker Willie Spears. Learn more at www.williespears.com.