Tommie Smith and John Carlos (Finally) Inducted Into The Olympic Hall Of Fame

On November 1st of this year, former Olympic medalist sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos will finally be inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame. Before there were athlete activists like Colin Kaepernick [who began the nationwide trend of taking a knee during the National Anthem before games in protest of racial injustice, inequality, and violence minorities experience everyday in this country] there was Smith and Carlos. 

Smith won gold and Carlos won bronze during the 200 meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. While they were standing on the winner stands they both raised a fist with a leather glove on, a symbol that was synonymous with the Black Panther group, and looked to the ground as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played. This was the original form of taking a knee, and like Kaepernick, the two were immediately ostracized and punished for the “political protest.” The Olympics expelled both Smith and Carlos from the games and any event affiliated with the Olympics, and they were immediately sent home after the medal ceremony. Now, nearly 51 years later, they’re being honored by the Olympics for their bravery and for unknowingly starting a protest movement that would last into modern day sports culture. 

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Tommie Smith (right) John Carlos (left) crossing the finish line at the 200 meter dash

When we think of the year 1968 during the Summer Olympics, we have to remember the context. Martin Luther King Jr. was recently assassinated, there was a war for peace during the actual Vietnam war, and the fight for racial equality was at its height, for the time at least. Racial tensions were already extremely high, so the USOPC was attempting to keep the ‘68 games as non-political as they could, ironic for an event in which every single country in the world competes to see who’s the best. 

According to The Washington Post’s full account of the iconic 1968 Olympic moment, “The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee  initially decided against a suspension, at the time, intending to issue a warning to the rest of the American athletes competing in Mexico. The International Olympic Committee demanded a stronger response, though, fearing that racial dissension might spread to other delegations if USOC refused to suspend Smith and Carlos,’ according to a dispatch sent from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City at the time.”

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That year for the Olympics was doomed from the start, as it began with controversy. Black athletes from all parts of the world were upset at the inclusion of Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia in the games that year. Many protested by threatening not to participate, and some actually didn’t. Others were demanding that more black coaches be hired, and accused the then president of the International Olympic Committee of racism and antisemitism for the inclusion of the country, so much so that they demanded his termination. 

Luckily, everyone besides the USOPC saw the bravery and heroic nature behind Smith and Carlos’ peaceful protest and they’ve been honored and praised ever since. The two already have a long list of awards and achievements from the now iconic Olympic moment, including induction into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. In addition the two were able to go to the White House and meet President Obama along with the rest of that years U.S. Summer Olympic team.

Now, the U.S. Olympic Committee is finally catching up with the rest of the world and inducting the two star athlete activists into the Hall of Fame, it only took five decades.