The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Athletes Take a Stand

Oct 15, 2018

On October 16, 1968, two black U.S. athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, mounted the podium at the Olympic Games. They had come in first and third in the 200 meter dash. In front of the cameras of the entire world, they each raised a gloved fist and lowered their head while the national anthem played.

They announced by this act their solidarity with the black struggle against racist oppression in the United States. In 1968, this vast movement was entering a new, more radical phase in demanding power, Black Power.

The U.S. sports establishment did not appreciate this defiance: Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked out of the Olympic village and their high-level athletic careers were stopped in their tracks. They were also hassled by the FBI. Their courage, because they knew the U.S. authorities would not cut them any breaks, recalled that of boxer Muhammad Ali. Two years earlier, he had refused to step forward for the draft and participate in the Vietnam War. As a result, he had lost his title as world champion.

Two years ago, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was inspired by these athletes of the 1960s to kneel and lower his head while the national anthem was played before football games. With this gesture, he expressed protest against the racist murders and police violence that black people in this country face. Kaepernick in turn inspired other athletes to participate in making this protest. He has also paid for his stance, as he remains unsigned with any team.