"You can no longer count on the successors of Jesse Owens to join in a
fun-and-games fête propagandized as the epitome of equal rights so long as we are refused those rights in a white society."
-- Harry Edwards, 1968
An attempted boycott, by African-American athlete
s, of the 1968 Mexico
Summer Olympic Games
; a protest organized by sociologist Harry Edwards, a former football player who (as a teacher) had led a successful athletes' boycott of a San Jose State University
football game. The Olympic boycott was meant to protest apartheid
, in the US
and South Africa
, and the smaller-scale racism
in American sport
; it never really materialized in full, but two members of that protest
- Tommie Smith and John Carlos, medalists (gold and bronze, respectively), in the 200 meters, and former student activists at San Jose State - became famous for their Black Power
salute during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner
". They were wearing white Olympic Project buttons on their warmup suits. Both sprinters were suspended and sent packing
by the United States
Olympic Committee for their actions.
Peter Norman, a white Australian athlete and the silver medalist in the 200,
also wore an OPHR button, in solidarity. Many black athletes were against
any sort of protest, which is the main reason why there was no boycott; some
wore black armbands and/or the white buttons.
Even though politics, in the form of, for example, flag-waving or the old "Commies versus Good Guys" rivalry (still in full effect at the time), had been long a part of the modern-day Olympics, the OPHR weren't especially welcome, either by the International Olympic Committee, led at the time by right-wing, flag-waving American Avery Brundage, or by the USOC. The OPHR failed to get with the program. Nowadays, with the Cold War over, all that's left is some apolitical, good-time flag-waving, plus logo-waving, by human billboards for Nike and Adidas, et al, and by Olympic sponsors like Coca-Cola, Visa, and Kodak. Australian runner Cathy Freeman's efforts on behalf of aboriginal rights seem like an anachronism; she was even warned by the IOC, at the 1996 Atlanta games, not to carry an Aboriginal flag, should she take the traditional victory lap after winning a gold medal.
The only rights one is allowed to discuss now are television rights.
The OPHR included prominent blacks, athletes and non-athletes, from a wide
variety of political/apolitical viewpoints, people like H. Rap Brown,
Stokely Carmichael, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(felled by an assassin's bullet, months before the start of the Mexico City games), college basketball star Lew Alcindor, who ended up, along with some UCLA teammates, boycotting anyway, Floyd McKissick, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali.
"My raised right hand stood for the power in black America. Carlos' raised
left hand stood for the unity of black America. Together they formed an arch
of unity and power. The black scarf around my neck stood for black pride. The black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America. The
totality of our effort was the beginning of black dignity."
-- Tommie Smith, 1974
Actually, they couldn't find a second pair of black glove
s; the notion to hold the clenched-fist
protest on the victory stand came right before the 200-meter final. It wasn't quite the premeditated catalog of revolutionary
symbolism that Smith later claimed for it.
"[T]he Olympic Games as an ideal of brotherhood and world
community is passé. The Olympics is so obviously hypocritical that even the Neanderthals watching TV know what they're seeing can't be true. Even Neanderthals know that the Russians stomped the Czechs and that the Jews despise the Arabs and that racists rule the US. So, all of a sudden, the
Olympics comes on TV - all this smiling and hand shaking, and even the Neanderthal has to sit up and say, "Hey, what the hell? How can that be? All
year I watch nothin' but hate on TV; now they come on with the love! It's gotta
be phony. The Olympics gotta be a put-on, man."
This node is sponsored by Reebok.
-- Harry Edwards, 1968