In 1968, Muhammad Ali had his boxing license taken away because he refused to serve in the United States Military and participate in the Vietnam War.
Forty-nine years ago today, Thommie Smith, Peter Norman and John Carlos staged a protest on the podium following an event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics that did not sit well with people. Smith and Carlos raised their fists during the playing of the American National Anthem while Australia’s Peter Norman joined them in solidarity. The three were supporting the Olympic Project For Human Rights. They were not the only three who pushed the idea, there were others but they were the most visible athletes because of their actions and the picture of Smith and Carlos with raised fists. Not much has changed in 49 years, protestors are still vilified by some sports fans, the International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage who had supported the 1936 Berlin Games, threw Smith and Carlos out of the Olympic Village. Brent Musburger, who was a columnist with the Chicago American newspaper called Smith and Carlos black-skinned storm troopers among other things. Musburger was not pleased that Smith and Carlos used the Olympics platform to make a political statement. Smith and Carlos eventually would eventually be able to get acclaim as civil rights activists. Norman was shunned in Australia. It would not be until 2012, six years after his death that the Australian parliament apologized to him for the way the country treated him following the 1968 Mexico City Games.
The calendar year 1968 was loaded with significant events starting with Walter Cronkite’s assessment on CBS News that American could not win the Vietnam War. President Lyndon Johnson did not run for re-election, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were gunned down, there was a riot at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, students demonstrated against the Vietnam War on college campus and in Washington. Richard Nixon would eventually be elected President but the Vietnam War raged on. Sports had black activists, Muhammad Ali, Smith, Carlos and others. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
1968 was a tumultuous year.