decades later, the image can still make hairs rise on unsuspecting
necks. It's 1968, and 200 meter gold medalist Tommie Smith stands
next to bronze winner John Carlos, their raised black gloved fists
smashing the sky on the medal stand in Mexico City. They were
Trojan Horses of Rage -- bringing the Black revolution into that
citadel of propriety and hypocrisy: the Olympic games.
see that image, their eyes are drawn like magnets toward Smith
and Carlos, standing in black socks, their heads bowed in controlled
is the silver medalist. He is hardly mentioned in official retrospectives,
and people assume him to be a Forrest Gump-type figure, just another
of those unwitting witnesses to history who always end up in the
back of famous frames. Only the perceptive notice that this seemingly
anonymous individual is wearing a rather large button emblazoned
with the letters O-P-H-R, standing for the Olympic Project for
who see the film footage notice that he never throws a furtive
glance back at fellow medal winners as they raise their fists.
He never registers surprise or alarm. At a moment that epitomized
the electric shock of rebellion, his gaze is cool, implacable,
his back ramrod straight, a fellow soldier proud to stand with
who go beyond official history will learn about the true motivations
of all three of these men. They wanted the apartheid countries
of South African and Rhodesia to be disallowed from the Olympics.
They wanted more coaches of African descent. They wanted the world
to know that their success did not mean racism was now a relic
of history. The silver medalist with the white skin stood with
Smith and Carlos on every question and it was agreed before the
race, that if the three, as expected, were the ones on the dais,
they would stand together: three young anti-racists standing together
Norman) was a pariah in the
Australian Olympic world, despite being
a five-time national champion in the
200 meters. He desired to coach the
highest levels, yet worked as a
Physical Education teacher, the victim
of a down under blacklist.
medalist with the nerves of steel and thirst for justice was Australian
runner Peter Norman. Norman died of a heart attack last week at
the age of 64 and Monday was put to rest.
who knew the depth and conviction of Norman's solidarity were
the two who acted as lead pallbearers at his funeral: Tommie Smith
and John Carlos. Over the years the three men had stayed connected,
welded together by history and the firestorm they all faced when
the cameras were turned off.
Tommie Smith (left)
and John Carlos.
endured by Smith and Carlos is well documented. Less known are
Norman's own travails.
He was a pariah in the Australian Olympic world, despite being
a five-time national champion in the 200 meters. He desired to
coach the highest levels, yet worked as a Physical Education teacher,
the victim of a down under blacklist.
As John Carlos
said, "At least me and Tommie had each other when we came home.
When Peter went home, he had to deal with a nation by himself.
He never wavered, never denied that he was up there with us for
a purpose and he never said 'I'm sorry' for his involvement. That's
indicative of who the man was."
2000 Olympics came to Sydney, Norman was outrageously outcast
from the festivities, still the invisible man. In a conversation
at that time with sportswriter Mike Wise, Norman was absent of
bitterness and wore his ostracism as proudly as that solidarity
button from 1968. "I did the only thing I believed was right,"
he said to Wise. "I asked what they wanted me to do to help. I
couldn't see why a black man wasn't allowed to drink out of the
same water fountain or sit in the same bus or go to the same schools
as a white guy. That was just social injustice that I couldn't
do anything about from where I was, but I certainly abhorred it."
Peter went home, he had to
deal with a nation by himself.
He never wavered, never denied that
he was up there with us for a purpose
and he never said 'I'm sorry'
for his involvement. That's indicative
of who the man was."
- John Carlos
strayed from a life of humility. When a sculpture was unveiled
of Smith and Carlos last year in California, Norman was left off,
the silver medal platform purposely vacant so others could stand
in his place. Smith and Carlos protested it, feeling it fed the
false idea of Norman as political bystander. But Norman himself
who traveled from Australia to California for the unveiling said,
"I love that idea. Anybody can get up there and stand up for something
they believe in. I guess that just about says it all."
define himself by self-promotion, book deals, or the lecture circuit
-- only by the quiet pride that he was a part of a movement much
bigger than himself. By happily surrendering his personal glory
to the greater good, Norman earned the love and respect of his
said about sudden passing of the man his children called Uncle
Pete, "Peter was a piece of my life. When I got the call, it knocked
the wind out of me. I was his brother. He was my brother. That's
all you have to know."
Zirin's new book, "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance
in the United States," is now in stores. You can receive his column,
Edge of Sports, every week by emailing edgeofsports-
[email protected]. Contact him at [email protected]
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