Jump to content

Remember when athletes


Recommended Posts

It's late August in Beijing, and the U.S. has just taken basketball gold. But while everyone awaits a celebration by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, there's a somber look on the athletes' faces as they climb the medal stand. Suddenly, their black-gloved fists are raised to the heavens, reminiscent of the protest at the 1968 Mexico City Games. Shockingly, with little regard for themselves, multimillionaire Olympians have decided to make a high-profile call for human rights in China, honoring the legacy of Tommie Smith and John Carlos without worrying about what it will cost.

We can always dream, can't we?

We can dream that at least some of today's athletes will remember how Smith and Carlos captured gold and bronze, respectively, in the 200 meters, and why they raised their fists in a "black power" salute for the world to see. We can dream about the future the two runners hoped for. And we can be thankful that on July 20, long after their righteous, justifiable act, two of America's most distinguished Olympians will be honored with the Arthur Ashe Award at the ESPYs.

"Let's face it," says Harry Edwards, the sociologist, civil rights activist and former Black Panther Party member who sparked the whole thing. "In any other country on the face of this earth, Tommie, John and I would be either dead or in somebody's dungeon."

What happened to Smith and Carlos was bad enough. They were emotionally bludgeoned with death threats and labeled unpatriotic because of a simple gesture of defiance. It began with Edwards, then a professor at San Jose State, who'd been looking for ways to call attention to his belief that the civil rights movement had not gone far enough to eradicate injustices for black Americans. Setting his sights on sports as a medium for the message, Edwards organized a group called the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which called for an all-out boycott of the 1968 Summer Games. That ambitious goal wasn't attained, but with the help of Smith and Carlos, two track stars at San Jose State, it morphed into a historic moment.

A SIMPLE GESTURE OF DEFIANCE MORPHED INTO A HISTORIC MOMENT.

As "The Star-Spangled Banner" played and the American flag rose above the medal stand, both athletes bowed their heads. Then Smith, wearing a black glove on his right hand, closed his fist and raised it as a sign of black power. Carlos raised his left, black-gloved fist as a symbol of black unity. The black scarf around Smith's neck represented black pride. Their black socks (neither man was wearing shoes) represented economic hardship; at the time, 29% of Americans living in poverty were black (blacks made up 19% of the U.S. population).

The backlash was swift and immediate. Smith and Carlos were suspended from the national team and banished from the Olympic Village. America, shamed and exposed, was enraged by their actions. "Once we got back, we were ostracized, even by our own," Smith says. "Folks were scared, man. No jobs. We couldn't find work. People even told us, 'We can't get close to you guys because we have our own jobs to protect.' These were my friends. At least they were my friends before I left for Mexico City."

And Edwards? His career was over at San Jose State. "And of course," he says, "[FBI director] J. Edgar Hoover took a personal hand in managing, let us say, my portfolio at the FBI 3,500 pages of documents, speeches, communications from informants who'd been placed in my classes. I was persona non grata at most athletic venues, as well as abroad. Throw that in with the death threats, and it was a pretty stiff hand."

Life eventually dealt them better cards. Both Smith and Carlos went on to teach and coach, and Edwards is a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley. It's nice to see recognition for the two former medalists on the eve of another Olympics. But at the same time, to participate in the Beijing Games, athletes are now required to sign waivers promising that they won't engage in any kind of protest or demonstration at Olympic venues. It's ironic at the very least. Not to mention pathetic, weak and un-American. That's right, I said it!

Olympic organizers can try all they want to keep the Games nonpolitical. That won't stop Tibetans at home and abroad from protesting Chinese repression. And it certainly shouldn't stop today's U.S. athletes, collectively and individually more powerful than ever before, from saying or doing something that transcends sports instead of being limited by them. I don't care if it's in the form of a small quote or a big gesture. Nor do I care if it's from LeBron, Tyson Gay or whoever wins the modern pentathlon.

ANTIPROTEST WAIVERS ARE PATHETIC AND UN-AMERICAN. THAT'S RIGHT, I SAID IT!

In recent history we've seen Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods break records and break down stereotypes. But let's be real: When it comes to political activism, American sports has lacked a spokesman for years. Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown are long gone from the spotlight, and Ashe left the stage far too soon. The closest thing we have to a truth-teller today is Charles Barkley, who's conveniently dismissed as "Charles just bein' Charles" whenever folks want to ignore the legitimacy of his criticism.

Think about it! The African-American stars of the 1930s through the 1960s, from Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Bill Russell, met the obligations of their time. They helped break down segregation what Edwards terms "the absolute cultural and political presumption that blacks were, by genetic design, unfit to compete with and against whites in sports."

Decades later, despite (or perhaps because of) riches and fame and a significant decline in overt racist practices, today's athletes show very little interest in standing up for or against something bigger than themselves whether it's war, tyranny, economic deprivation or global warming. Who among them will have the conscience to embrace the challenges that lie ahead, no matter what the sponsors or, yes, the TV networks, think?

"Remember, no one saw Martin Luther King coming," Edwards says. "He was a young, second-level preacher. Nobody saw Malcolm X coming out of prison. Nobody saw Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Harry Edwards coming out of San Jose State. I'm convinced that, irrespective of what we think we see from a social and political standpoint relative to this generation of athletes, there's somebody out there whom we simply don't see coming. I don't think we are wise enough or visionary enough to say that this generation is lost or that this generation can't get it done. Keep the faith."

We know what the hope is. But what about the reality, in light of all the money on the table and its tremendous power to manipulate? Think about those antiprotest waivers, the ones everybody is apparently all too willing to sign, and tell me that any modern-day star will use his or her platform to speak up about terrorism, sweatshops in third-world countries or other unspeakable human rights violations.

Which leaves us with a question: Do we even care anymore? The way Tommie Smith and John Carlos did and still do?

http://http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3487980

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a good sign for a society and culture when these things are seemingly needless. You dont want a society where generation after generation has to fight against the same struggles.

Also, when you're an athlete who is making $15,000 a year from sports, it's a whole lot easier to complain than the guy who is making $15 million a year.

I think it's a combination of social progression and economic excess; with a dash of ignorance.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Life is different now. Players don't want to lose potential endorsement deals. Plus, there are fewer problems now than there were back then. Besides, the minute an athlete spoke up on an issue I'm sure a lot of people (sports and non-sports fans alike) would just say something like "Shut up and just play ball. You're not qualified to talk about the issues, you dumb jock."

Famous people in other fields speak out all the time, but get slammed for it. Musicians and movie stars could say something about one of America's most pressing issues, but people label them as "idiots" or "uninformed," if not something nastier. Some celebrities lose endorsements and work because of their political beliefs. Seeing how we treat celebrities for speaking out, why would an athlete want any part of that?

In the end, people don't want to hear what athletes have to say. If so, the athlete had better say something people agree with. Anybody from any walk of life will catch a lot of flack if he/she says something somebody disagrees with. Also, the athlete probably doesn't want to deal with the stress from media asking questions about any comments he may have made. Any comment an athlete may make will damage his career, so it's understandable that they would not speak out.

Link to post
Share on other sites
EvilMeetsInsane13 (7/16/2008)
Life is different now. Players don't want to lose potential endorsement deals. Plus, there are fewer problems now than there were back then. Besides, the minute an athlete spoke up on an issue I'm sure a lot of people (sports and non-sports fans alike) would just say something like "Shut up and just play ball. You're not qualified to talk about the issues, you dumb jock."

Famous people in other fields speak out all the time, but get slammed for it. Musicians and movie stars could say something about one of America's most pressing issues, but people label them as "idiots" or "uninformed," if not something nastier. Some celebrities lose endorsements and work because of their political beliefs. Seeing how we treat celebrities for speaking out, why would an athlete want any part of that?

In the end, people don't want to hear what athletes have to say. If so, the athlete had better say something people agree with. Anybody from any walk of life will catch a lot of flack if he/she says something somebody disagrees with. Also, the athlete probably doesn't want to deal with the stress from media asking questions about any comments he may have made. Any comment an athlete may make will damage his career, so it's understandable that they would not speak out.

I think that right there explains it all. Notice that when ever an athlete says more than what seems to be the Politically Correct Script that is given to them by their team everybody takes turns beating them like a piñata. It's almost as if once you become a celebrity you have lost your right to free speech.

Link to post
Share on other sites
EvilMeetsInsane13 (7/16/2008)
Life is different now. Players don't want to lose potential endorsement deals. Plus, there are fewer problems now than there were back then. Besides, the minute an athlete spoke up on an issue I'm sure a lot of people (sports and non-sports fans alike) would just say something like "Shut up and just play ball. You're not qualified to talk about the issues, you dumb jock."

Famous people in other fields speak out all the time, but get slammed for it. Musicians and movie stars could say something about one of America's most pressing issues, but people label them as "idiots" or "uninformed," if not something nastier. Some celebrities lose endorsements and work because of their political beliefs. Seeing how we treat celebrities for speaking out, why would an athlete want any part of that?

In the end, people don't want to hear what athletes have to say. If so, the athlete had better say something people agree with. Anybody from any walk of life will catch a lot of flack if he/she says something somebody disagrees with. Also, the athlete probably doesn't want to deal with the stress from media asking questions about any comments he may have made. Any comment an athlete may make will damage his career, so it's understandable that they would not speak out.

Helluva post here folks!

Link to post
Share on other sites
Anansi (7/16/2008)
EvilMeetsInsane13 (7/16/2008)
Life is different now. Players don't want to lose potential endorsement deals. Plus, there are fewer problems now than there were back then. Besides, the minute an athlete spoke up on an issue I'm sure a lot of people (sports and non-sports fans alike) would just say something like "Shut up and just play ball. You're not qualified to talk about the issues, you dumb jock."

Famous people in other fields speak out all the time, but get slammed for it. Musicians and movie stars could say something about one of America's most pressing issues, but people label them as "idiots" or "uninformed," if not something nastier. Some celebrities lose endorsements and work because of their political beliefs. Seeing how we treat celebrities for speaking out, why would an athlete want any part of that?

In the end, people don't want to hear what athletes have to say. If so, the athlete had better say something people agree with. Anybody from any walk of life will catch a lot of flack if he/she says something somebody disagrees with. Also, the athlete probably doesn't want to deal with the stress from media asking questions about any comments he may have made. Any comment an athlete may make will damage his career, so it's understandable that they would not speak out.

I think that right there explains it all. Notice that when ever an athlete says more than what seems to be the Politically Correct Script that is given to them by their team everybody takes turns beating them like a piñata. It's almost as if once you become a celebrity you have lost your right to free speech.

I think its not that people have a problem with them voicing their opinions, I think its because a normal, everyday person believes they (rich and famous people) shouldn't have their opinions broadcast at them 24 hours a day as if their's matter more than anyone else's.

I blame the media for that. Controversy sells.

Link to post
Share on other sites
july425 (7/16/2008)
HBO has a really good documentary about Smith, Carlos and Edwards called "The Fists of Freedom" out this month. I hope they do one on the athletes that gathered to support Ali when he refused to be drafted.
I don't know that they were ostracized because they called attention to civil rights. By 1968, that was a well known movement. I think it was because of the party they drew attention to.
Link to post
Share on other sites
kicker23 (7/16/2008)
july425 (7/16/2008)
HBO has a really good documentary about Smith, Carlos and Edwards called "The Fists of Freedom" out this month. I hope they do one on the athletes that gathered to support Ali when he refused to be drafted.
I don't know that they were ostracized because they called attention to civil rights. By 1968, that was a well known movement. I think it was because of the party they drew attention to.

That's exactly why they said they were ostracized though.

Link to post
Share on other sites
july425 (7/16/2008)
kicker23 (7/16/2008)
july425 (7/16/2008)
HBO has a really good documentary about Smith, Carlos and Edwards called "The Fists of Freedom" out this month. I hope they do one on the athletes that gathered to support Ali when he refused to be drafted.
I don't know that they were ostracized because they called attention to civil rights. By 1968, that was a well known movement. I think it was because of the party they drew attention to.

That's exactly why they said they were ostracized though.

Yeah, you're right.  It probably had nothing to do with showing allegance to a group known for militantancy and violence. 
Link to post
Share on other sites
kicker23 (7/16/2008)
july425 (7/16/2008)
kicker23 (7/16/2008)
july425 (7/16/2008)
HBO has a really good documentary about Smith, Carlos and Edwards called "The Fists of Freedom" out this month. I hope they do one on the athletes that gathered to support Ali when he refused to be drafted.
I don't know that they were ostracized because they called attention to civil rights. By 1968, that was a well known movement. I think it was because of the party they drew attention to.

That's exactly why they said they were ostracized though.

Yeah, you're right.  It probably had nothing to do with showing allegance to a group known for militantancy and violence. 

What group would that be? The fictional Black Panthers or the group Harry Edwards belonged too? Incidentally, the raised fist is not a sign of allegiance to an organization....never has been.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Anansi, I don t know if the climate today is so much like it was in 68 when the two did what they did.

Besides, we are so divided, what one may believe in may not be what millions more also believe in.

And why should it take some Olympic gold medal winning athlete to wake us up or wake the world up to anything these days? like I said, 68 was different. they couldn t blog about what they felt or go on Larry King live and talk about it. there are many more avenues available today for protest and making change.

Joe

Link to post
Share on other sites
Anansi (7/16/2008)
I think that right there explains it all. Notice that when ever an athlete says more than what seems to be the Politically Correct Script that is given to them by their team everybody takes turns beating them like a piñata. It's almost as if once you become a celebrity you have lost your right to free speech.

How many times have you heard (Seemingly every day on this board alone) people say things like "I really wish celebrities would just shut their mouth when it comes to politics."

Like they're the judge on who in this world can have a #####ing opinion.

I love it when someone from this message board says "I wish Sean Penn would just shut up."

And then they post a thread about their political views. Like somehow they have more of a right to express their opinion than Sean Penn. It's comical, but at the same time, quite sad.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...