"If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."
There have been a couple of scandals and controversies in the history of the Olympic Games. One of controversies was caused during the 1968 Olympics when the two black athletes Tommie Smith (gold medalist) and John Carlos (bronze medalist) raised their black-gloved fists on the podium while the US-American national anthem was played during the medal ceremony in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman (1942-2006) wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity. Smith and Carlos received their medals shoeless wearing black socks to represent black poverty. Smith's black scarf was a symbol of black pride. Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with blue collar workers in the US; his necklace of beads was "for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage". No matter if the salute was a "Black Power" salute or a "human rights salute", it surely was "one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games" which soon became front page news (via). Their salute became one of the most memorable events of the twentieth century in the history of sports (via).
When Smith and Carlos left the podium, they were booed by the crowd. Avery Brundage (1887-1975), president of the International Olympic Committee, ordered both suspended from the team and banned them from the Olympic Village. At first, the US Olympic Committee refused but later expelled them from the Games because Brundage threatened to ban the entire US track team. The same Brundage, by the way, had made no objections against Nazi salutes when he was president of the US Olympic Committee in 1936. Smith and Carlos were highly criticised, media coverage was negative and their families received death threats (via). Peter Norman was reprimanded by the Australian media and the Australian Olympic authorities. In 1972, he was not sent to the Summer Olympics in Munich despite his qualifying times. Neither was another male sprinter sent there (via).
Decades later, in 2008, Smith and Carlos received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award which is part of the "Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award" for their action (in 2015, the award was given to Caitlyn Jenner for showing "courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years" (via)). Today, Smith and Carlos are honoured with statues, exhibitions, airbrush murals, films and songs (via). In 2012, the Australian Parliament decided to officially apologise for doing wrong to Peter Norman (via).
The Australian Parliament's apology:
"The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the motion of Dr Leigh - That this House:
(1) recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record;
(2) acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the ‘black power’ salute;
(3) apologises to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite repeatedly qualifying; and
(4) belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality - Debate resumed by Dr Leigh who moved, by leave, as an amendment - Omit paragraph (3), substitute:
(3) apologises to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006; and Debate continued." (literally via)
"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 didn't; "I saw love."
"There's no-one in the nation of Australia that should be honoured, recognised, appreciated more than Peter Norman for his humanitarian concerns, his character, his strength and his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for justice."
"He was a devout Christian, raised in the Salvation Army [and] believed passionately in equality for all, regardless of colour, creed or religion – the Olympic code".
Paul Byrnes about Peter Norman
"In terms of Peter Norman, he expressed verbally his idea of human rights. When he got on the victory stand he was wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights button symbolizing his belief in human rights. Not symbolizing his belief in black rights in this country, but in human rights, which included the black rights. Tommie Smith and John Carlos had the same button on, therefore that tied him with the belief in human rights. Now, this man ran a great race. He ran a race of authority, especially the last six meters, to become a silver medalist. When he got back to his country, which also had problems with blackness, especially with the aborigine congregation, he was not received very well. I think he was vilified because he stood on the victory stand with a button on. There was nothing that he could do to make the country understand that he was not guilty."
"When I saw those two guys with their fists up on the victory stand, it made my heart jump. It was beautiful."
Margaret Bergmann-Lambert, German high jumper who was prevented from taking part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics because she was Jewish
"In that moment, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, and John Carlos became the living embodiments of Olympic idealism. Ever since, they have been inspirations to generations of athletes like myself, who can only aspire to their example of putting principle before personal interest. It was their misfortune to be far greater human beings than the leaders of the IOC of the day."
Akaash Maharaj, member of the Canadian Olympic Committee
"A lot came to mind on the victory stand, in nanoseconds. From the time I got involved until that particular raising of the fist in solidarity. From getting no jobs, my belief in humanity, both civil and human, and I had to say something because, you know, I believed. You can run, but you cannot hide, and this was all part of my belief then and is still now. I have a responsibility. I was on a mission. It was a Tommie Smith mission to bring forth the need for America to change. To change its policies, in terms of equality, to change its policies in terms of equal rights, and the right of all people in a country which the constitution has promised to protect. Very simple."
“It (a protest) was in my head the whole year. We first tried to have a boycott (of the games) but not everyone was down with that plan. A lot of athletes thought that winning medals would supercede or protect them from racism. But even if you won the medal, it ain’t going to save your momma. It ain’t going to save your sister or children. It might give you fifteen minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life? I’m not saying that they didn’t have the right to follow their dreams, but to me the medal was nothing but the carrot on a stick.”
“We wanted the world to know that in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Central Los Angeles, Chicago, that people were still walking back and forth in poverty without even the necessary clothes to live.The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up to.”
"I had no idea the moment on the medal stand would be frozen for all time. I had no idea what we'd face. I didn't know or appreciate, at that precise moment, that the entire trajectory of our young lives had just irrevocably changed."
photographs (1-3) by Jeff Kroot via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via, copyrights by the respective owners