When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their arms with black gloves on their fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics, the crowd booed loudly to show its disapproval.
Smith and Carlos finished first and third in the 200-meter dash. The two raised their arms during the Star Spangled Banner to protest racism in the U.S.
Smith won the Gold Medal, setting a world record of 19.83 seconds, and Carlos won the Bronze Medal. Peter Norman of Australia won the Silver Medal.
The crowd booed even louder as the two men walked off the winners’ podium wearing black socks and no shoes. U.S. Olympic officials ordered Smith and Carlos to leave the Olympic village.
Brent Musburger, Chicago sportswriter, called Smith and Carlos “black-skinned storm troopers” for their clenched fist power salute. His comments appeared in Chicago American, later renamed Chicago Today. The newspaper is now out of business.
Musburger, now radio play-by-play announcer for the Oakland Raiders, never explained what the two sprinters were protesting. The article’s headline read “Bizarre Protest by Smith, Carlos Tarnishes Medals.”
It’s safe to say, Chicago American’s newsroom was all-white and all male.
Time magazine said the protest by Smith and Carlos made the Olympic games ugly.
More than 50 years after the Smith and Carlos were ordered to leave the Olympic Village, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced it will induct Smith and Carlos and seven others into the Olympic Hall of Fame. The two men will be inducted during a ceremony November 1 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the committee is based.
Carlos, now 74, doesn’t think about Musburger who never has apologized for his comments.
Carlos told U.S.A. Today Sports, “Well you know, Brent Musburger doesn’t even exist in my mind. So I don’t even know. He didn’t mean anything to me 51 years ago. He doesn’t mean anything to me today. Because he’s been proven to be wrong.” Smith is now 75.
The pending hall of fame induction of Smith and Carlos follows an apology by the University of Wyoming to former black football players who were kicked off the team because they wanted to ask about wearing black armbands in a game against Brigham Young University.
After the Olympics, Smith and Carlos were ostracized by white sports writers. They both worked various jobs, including some coaching.
Before the 1968 Summer Olympics, my friends considered them heroes because of their abilities to sprint faster than most people on Earth. Smith was competing in a track meet at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where I grew up. At least five of us went to the meet. When we saw Smith stretching on the infield, we surrounded him. None of said anything, we just gazed at him. We believed we were in the presence of God.
Peter Norman did not fare as well after the games. The Australian government ostracized Norman and never forgave him for supporting Smith and Carlos.
Norman died in 2006. Smith and Carlos each gave eulogies and were pall bearers at his funeral.