Today’s sports activists follow lead of Smith, Carlos — then push further

This is the first in a series of stories chronicling the Bay Area’s rich history of sports figures fighting for equality.

Recent acts of athlete activism have their roots in what unfolded 52 years ago when San Jose State sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrust their black-gloved fists into the gray Mexico City night.

Their spontaneous demonstration at the 1968 Summer Olympics became the guiding star for professional athletes in basketball, baseball and soccer who refused to play on Aug. 26 because of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“We were like a road map,” Carlos said recently. He recalled thinking from that podium, “This isn’t a moment, this is a movement.”

It was a movement Harry Edwards initiated in the 1960s as a San Jose State professor who helped create the Olympic Project for Human Rights hoping for a Black athlete boycott of the ‘68 Games.

Edwards, 77, said he has waited for a half-century to see athletes bring attention to racism and inequality with a work stoppage.

“This is a shift in terms of substance” because “everybody has a stake in the games being played: Ownership, sponsors, networks, fans, the media,” he said.

Edwards said recent actions surpass the gestures of Smith and Carlos or former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the playing of the national anthem four years ago.

“Those are statements of outrage,” Edwards said. “They do not compel action.”

Officials stand beside an empty court after the scheduled start of game five between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic on August 26 (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) 

Such bold acts as walking off a court or field had never been seen on such a large scale. The stoppage last month included female and male players representing many ethnicities in multiple sports.

Carlos, who lives about a half-hour’s drive from Smith in suburban Atlanta, called these athletes his heroes. But he also reminded them that protest is a lifelong calling.

“Once you jump into this pool it is not a one-shot deal,” said Carlos, 75.

Bay Area sports figures such as the Warriors’ Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry, Oakland football star Marshawn Lynch, the Sharks’ Evander Kane and Kaepernick seemingly understand the message as they use their celebrity platform for social change.

Even Kerr’s fellow coaches, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and Giants manager Gabe Kapler, have made pointed public statements against racial injustice.

The uniting of diverse voices, however, does not guarantee change.

“But one thing for certain is work stoppages and boycotts have the potential of accomplishing things that mere statements and protests could never have accomplished,” said Edwards, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.

Yet Edwards never forgot where he was on Oct. 16, 1968, when one of the most controversial moments in sports history materialized during the medal ceremony for the 200-meters sprint.


Harry Edwards. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Edwards said a well-sourced friend warned him against attending the Olympics because U.S. agents were monitoring his boycott efforts. He instead watched the drama unfold from Montreal at a Black writers workshop.

Despite a slight groin …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Sports


(Visited 5 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *