The story appears on

Page B13

November 29, 2009

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Athletes' hot summer of 1968

THE images that make it into our long-term collective memory are few. One that has escaped the maws of oblivion, though, dates from the athletic circus that was the 1968 Summer Olympics. I am, of course, referring to the photos of Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing shoeless at a medal ceremony.

On October 16, Smith won the gold and Carlos the bronze in the 200-meter race. There they stood on the podium, heads hanging almost humbly and gloved fists raised in a defiant black power salute. "Something in the Air," Richard Hoffer's skillfully told tale of the Mexico City Olympics, revolves around this arresting image.

Formerly a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, Hoffer walks us back from the power salutes to where it all began, at San Jose State - or, as it was then known, Speed City. In the 1960s, the college's eccentric but brilliant track coach, Bud Winter, was recruiting African-American speedsters like Carlos, Smith and Lee-Evans. He also brought in Harry Edwards, a behemoth discus thrower who, as Hoffer says, would soon become a political flamethrower.

In his sophomore season, Edwards approached Winter about the living conditions of black athletes at San Jose. One word led to another, and within minutes the two were locked in a near-violent confrontation. Edwards would never toss the discus again.

But he remained at San Jose as a basketball player, and then went on to graduate school at Cornell. The black power movement was cresting, and Edwards became involved in trying to organize athletes and awaken their political awareness.

In 1967, Edwards cobbled together the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an assemblage dedicated to fighting racism.

The group strove to arrange a black boycott of the 1968 Games, but as Hoffer tells it: "The movement had failed for lack of solidarity, and all that was left was the possibility of individual protest. And that possibility seemed to be fizzling as well, event by event, as the black athletes accepted their medals without demonstration."

Then, late in the Games, Smith and Carlos came up with their almost impromptu plan for the silent scream of those raised fists. The American news media were brutal. At home, most blacks smiled; most whites smoldered.

Shortly after the protest, Smith told the ABC commentator Howard Cosell: "The right glove that I wore on my right hand signified the power within black America. The left glove my teammate John Carlos wore on his left hand made an arc with my right hand and his left hand, also to signify black unity."

Hoffer's jaunty but disciplined prose puts the wind at the reader's back and shows us how the leaps, lifts and dashes of 1968 made a significant impact on the civil rights movement and raised the political consciousness of athletes.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend