Paying the Price
THE FIRST QUESTION out of most people’s mouths to me, when they talk about Mexico City, is: “How did you feel when they took your medal?” I can’t answer it, because John Carlos and I were not stupid enough to listen to the USOC, travel over to their office, and hand over those medals. They did ask for them, the next day, but of course we did not go, and each of us has his medal at this very moment.
The next question usually is: “How did it feel when they threw you out of the Olympic Village?” Well, technically, that didn’t happen, either. The day after the silent protest, we moved out of the Village and into the El Diplomatico Hotel, where our wives were staying. We had planned to get out of the Village after our races anyway; we had already moved our stuff out the day of the 200meter final. Had we still been entered in any other races, the rules said that we had to stay in the Village, and we didn’t want to make our race illegal by not staying in the Village. We were covering every possible angle. Once our races were done, we could move out. The U.S. team did not need Carlos in the 4-by-100 relay because he was the fifth-fastest guy there, and they did not need me in the 4-by-400 relay. So we were finished. I came back to my room in the Village the next day, Thursday, picked up my last few things, a jockstrap, uniform, shoes, bags—and on the way out, the press was waiting. They got me. There’s a picture of me from that day that went around the world, of me coming out of the village in a gray shirt and carrying that one bag.
The interview that most people remember, the one with Howard Cosell on ABC, took place immediately after the protest; that was when I explained exactly what the symbols on the victory stand meant. I told him the following.