John Carlos Comes Home

By Zirin, Dave | The Progressive, December 2011 | Go to article overview

John Carlos Comes Home


Zirin, Dave, The Progressive


We just passed the forty-third anniversary of one of the most audacious political acts in sports history. It was when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black-gloved fists to the heavens at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

We also just passed what was arguably the most audacious athletic act in sports history, although it's been subject to far less discussion. This was the race before Smith and Carlos ascended to the medal stand and ascended into history.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Smith and Carlos did much more than just raise their fists. They also wore beads as a symbolic reminder of lynching. They didn't wear shoes as a symbol of poverty in black America. They wore patches that read, Olympic Project for Human Rights. They conjured this multilayered protest on the runway before the final heat. But all of that delicate planning wouldn't have meant a damn if both men didn't make it to the medal stand.

Here is where everyone needs to go to YouTube and watch the race itself. You can see John Carlos take every august principle of athletics and stand it on its head.

Carlos at the time was running 100 yards in under nine seconds. He could arguably lay claim to being the fastest man in the world. But on this day and at this time, his mind wasn't on winning a race or laying claim to a gold medal. Instead, it was on pacing the face so both men would end on that medal stand. When you see the actual contest, this becomes readily apparent. Carlos bursts out of the blocks and proceeds to lead the pack of world-class competitors by a considerable distance. Then he breaks the cardinal rule in sprinting. He looks backward. The sprinters' command is to never look back. The eyes must always remain forward, the neck perfectly rigid, the body like a blade in the wind.

Carlos glances over his left shoulder, however, not once or twice but three times. He's looking for Tommie Smith. Before the face, Smith had complained of a groin injury and there was a question if he could even face. …

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