#RespectYourElders: Are you tuning into the 2018 Winter Olympics?
This #BlackHistoryMonth, take a look back at the 1968 Summer Olympics, where track and field competitor Tommie Smith (born 1944) led one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history. You may recall when he and John Carlos held up their fists in solidarity with people fighting for human rights, while standing on the 200 meter winners’ podium. While a polarizing moment at the time, it’s now recognized as one of the most significant events in Olympic history.
Smith won the gold medal for the 200 meter race that year, but was suspended from the U.S. team after making the political statement. While the U.S. reprimanded Smith and Carlos, many people supported them around the world supported them. Smith has faced controversy and setbacks since the 1968 Games, but continued to speak out about human rights and race relations.
“They tried to make it a moment,” Smith said of the gesture at the 1968 Games. “But it was a movement because we’re still in the movement today.”
Smith’s athletic achievements continued beyond the Olympics. Throughout his career, Smith set seven individual world records, and was part of seven relay team world records. After retiring from track and field, he played for the Cincinnati Bengals football team as a wide receiver. Later, he became a track and field coach at Oberlin College, where he also taught sociology — he later taught at Santa Monica College.
Smith has received numerous honors, both as an athlete and for his influence on civil rights in America. He became a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978, was inducted into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 and received the organization’s Sportsman of the Millennium Award in 1999. He also received the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey Foundation, and was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards.
Smith published a 2007 autobiography titled “Silent Gesture,” in which he reflects on the 1968 Games and its impact on him as a coach and educator. He continues to speak about the gesture’s impact today. You can read about his take on it in CNN’s 2016 interview.