Did The Smith-Carlos-Norman Protest In 1968 Change Things?

Fifty years later, not much has changed.



In 1968, Americans did not get immediate punditry. There wasn’t much talk radio, there was no cable TV national programming but there were newspapers however newspapers were not on a 24 hour a day, seven days a week news cycle. So it took time for this news item to sink in. Thommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman had staged a political protest during the playing of the America National Anthem following their Mexico City Olympics event. Smith won the 200-meter sprint, Norman was second, Carlos third. Smith’s win was secondary. He and Carlos raised their fists while Norman wore an Olympic Project For Human Rights button. On the podium Smith and Carlos were barefooted protesting poverty and wore beads and scarves to protest lynching.

Smith and Carlos were thrown out of the Olympic Village. The International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage was no fan of athletes protesting.  Writers from the Los Angeles Times, TIME and the Chicago Tribune were furious. Those publications condemned Smith and Carlos. Chicago American writer Brent Musburger called them a pair of black skinned storm troopers.  Smith and Carlos did have supporters. The US Olympic crew team made up mostly of Harvard students put out a message backing Smith and Carlos. Smith and Carlos, who held the ultimate sports protest somehow ended up in the National Football League. Smith with then the AFL’s Cincinnati Bengals in 1969 and Carlos with the Philadelphia Eagles as a 15th round pick. He didn’t play because of a knee injury. Sports organizations and partners had no problem with Carlos who worked for a sneaker company and the United States Olympic Committee or Smith who was a college track and field coach. The protest didn’t accomplish much other than to call attention to what was going on in 1968. Fifty years later the some of the problems remain.

Brent Musburger wrote a scathing criticism of Smith and Carlos in 1968, calling them names.