The Day Sport Changed

Yesterday afternoon I saw that Peter Norman had died of a heart attack in Australia at age 64. Most of you probably have no idea who Peter Norman was; he was a 200 meter sprinter who won the Silver medal in the 1968 Olympics. The time that he ran that day 20.06 is still an Australian record. That is all incidental to what happened on the victory stand. The winner Tommy Smith and the bronze medalist John Carlos of the USA used the podium to raise their gloved fists in protest of racial inequities in the US. What is not know is that Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his shirt in support of Smith and Carlos. Naturally this did not endear him to the Australian powers that be, since Australia had their own racial problems having systematically destroyed the aboriginal population in much the same manner that we had destroyed the indigenous Indian population in the US. I believe that this protest, symbolic as it was, changed sport. Before this protest, sport was considered in isolation of the rest of society. Everyone knew there were problems but sport was considered an island, if you will an escape. 1968 was year of turmoil and protest, Martin Luther king had been assassinated that spring, Robert Kennedy was killed that June, there were protest in the streets against the war in Vietnam. In Mexico City just before the games, thousands of students had rioted in the streets protesting inequality and injustice in Mexico, hundreds perhaps thousands were killed by police, but the games went on. The gloved fist protest brought the reality of the outside world into the sports arena. As someone who was just starting in coaching it certainly shook my foundations. It caused me to be more sensitive to the athlete outside of practice and the games and above all to be much more socially conscious of the ills of society. In the spring of 1968 I had seen where Tommy Smith grew up in the central valley in California, the Joads in Grapes of Wrath had nothing over what he endured growing up. When I saw those conditions, I could not believe this was the US, it looked more like Soweto or the slums of Calcutta. I hope that the protest by these three athletes was not in vain, unfortunately what I see today in the world reminds me much of what I saw as a 21 year old naïve college senior in 1968. Hopefully the spirit of Peter Norman and his silent support of Smith and Carlos will awaken in all of us a renewed interest and concern for out fellow man and a spirit of tolerance and love. We can use this protest to remind ourselves of our responsibilities as human being who are privileged to take part in sport.


At 10/4/06, 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1968 -- that Olympics was also the year drug testing was initiated for Olympic competitors.

1968 -- I was young but I remember sitting up all night watching the riots in Chicago during the 1968 democratic convention.

The Vietnam War was at its peak with the Tet offensive. When a kid was pulled out of class to go to the office, we all knew why. Another brother was dead.

1968. Wars. Riots. Assinations. Civil rights. USS Pueblo. Tanks in Czechoslovakia. Hippies. Spaceships to the moon. It was a confusing time for an 11 year old kid.

Smith, Carlos, and Norman made sports an intragel part of life rather than an escape from the problems. They stopped the pretending. That was a good thing.

At 10/4/06, 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must be joking! The raising of those black fists did change sports forever alright. It brought racism into the arena. It was a disgusting example of the very thing blacks continue to cry about...it's all about me!!!!!!!!!!


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