Sunday, July 20, 2008

Great Olympic Moments: Tommie Smith and John Carlos

In what was probably the most memorable moment of tonight's ESPY Awards program (though I've got to admit that Justin Timberlake did a great job as host), Tommie Smith and John Carlos were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, for their act of courage at the 1968 Olympiad. Though there is a small part of me that wonders whether there is just a bit of historical revisionism going on with what was known at the time as the "Black Power Salute," Smith and Carlos deserve every benefit of the doubt, and are without question worthy of the award.

Howard Cosell recounts his interview with Tommie Smith, after Smith was suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and ordered out of Mexico City, in Cosell:

The interview was simple and direct. What did you mean, symbolically, by the bowed head, the shoeless feet, the outstretched fist? He explained: the fist to show the strength and unity of the black people everywhere, black power; the shoeless feet to show the anguish of the black people through all the years; the bowed head because the words of the [national] anthem were not being applied to blacks.

"Are you proud to be an American?" I asked him.

"I am proud to be a black American," he answered.

The relationship between Smith and Carlos over the years has been an interesting one, as I recounted here.

What has gotten lost in history is that Smith's performance in the 200 final was one of the most amazing track performances of all time.

No comments: