Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

December 24, 2008


Today I dragged my mum, sister, niece and nephew along to San Jose University to see Rigo 23’s statue of two former students. The statue portrays Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ human rights protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. What did these two men do? Oh, apart from win Gold and Bronze medals in the 200m? They removed their shoes and raised black-gloved fists, heads bowed, in a dignified and silent protest on behalf of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. That’s all. For this, they were expelled from the games.

The man behind their expulsion was Avery Brundage, the IOC president; a man who in 1936, as President of the United States Olympic Committee, saw nothing wrong in the Nazi salutes on display at the Berlin Olympics. Oh, he also thought the Olympics was no place for women. As far as every great and inspirational story has obstacles and, bluntly, baddies, they don’t come much badder than Avery.

Tigerlily Films made a documentary for BBC4 called Black Power Salute. The director, Geoff Small, talks about it here. Please read it. You’ll like it. It’ll take you a couple of minutes; roughly 6 times the time it took Tommie and John to change the world.

tommie-smith-john-carlosThe silver medal was won by Peter Norman; a white Australian. As an opponent of Australian policies specifically designed to restrict non-white immigration (and as a decent human being), Peter wanted to do his bit at the medal ceremony to show support for OPHR’s stand against racial segregation and racism in general. Maybe to the surprise of Tommie and John, he borrowed an OPHR badge from Paul Hoffman, a (white) member of the US rowing team. He wore a badge, that’s all. And for this he too was punished.

“While he didn’t raise a fist, he did lend a hand.” Tommie Smith.

Peter Norman is missing from the sculpture. Some, it seems, have been offended by this. They shouldn’t be. Peter attended the unveiling, and when he died in 2006 both Tommie and John were pallbearers at his funeral. John Carlos said, “Peter was a piece of my life… I was his brother. He was my brother. That’s all you have to know.”

And the sculpture acknowledges Peter’s contribution in the most moving of ways. In his place is the inscription; “Fellow athlete Australian Peter Norman stood here in solidarity. Take a stand.”

We can all be Peter Normans. Stand amongst giants. Lend a hand. Take a stand.


7 Responses to “Tommie Smith and John Carlos.”

  1. Andrea said

    great stuff, very interesting. thanks for writing about this – and especially for including that last photo, which shows how enormous that sculpture is! incredible.

  2. […] 2008- Tommie Smith and John Carlos. I drag my family to see the Tommie Smith and John Carlos statue in San […]

  3. […] that Tommie Smith. Just wow. You can read a great blog post about his courageous action […]

  4. Mo Hassan said

    Truly Inspiring our world would not be the same if it was not for the brave few in our century who stood up when it counted and changed how things are today.

  5. JOHN SCOTT said

    Today, 21 August 2012, the Australian Government will debate whether to offer an apology to Peter Norman. I am proud of him.

  6. Ted Fletcher said

    Whilst applauding their courage and condemning their punishment There should be no politics of any kind in sport!!
    I feel that they should insist on Peters statue being included otherwise the people that put it there without the white guy are just as racist as Avery Bundage

  7. Simon Hickson said

    Hi Ted. As I said towards the end of my post, Peter Norman attended the unveiling. he was friends with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They were pallbearers at his funeral. The statue has a plaque that acknowledges Peter’s part and encourages us all to, effectively, be Peter. I found his absence moving and involving at the same time.

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