01/02/07 - death at the mexico olympics

In today's excerpt - the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City:

"Three months after [Robert] Kennedy's killing, the real world again insinuated itself into sports. Again, ABC Sports, [Roone] Arledge and [Howard] Cosell were there. Ten days before the 1968 Olympics were to begin in Mexico City, nearly ten thousand people gathered to protest the nation's expenditures on games when millions of Mexicans lived in poverty. Gunfire from soldiers and police killed more than two hundred protesters. ...

"Late in the games, the black American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third at two hundred meters. They were proteges of black activist Harry Edwards, a professor at San Jose State. ... At a press conference alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and Floyd McKissick of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Edwards proposed a boycott of the Mexico City games unless certain demands were met. Those demands included barring South Africa and Rhodesia from the Olympics, [and] the hiring of black coaches and officials on the U.S. team ...

"No boycott developed, but Arledge expected something. ... Then, there it was, the something. As Smith and Carlos stepped onto the victory stand to receive their gold and bronze Olympic medals, they were barefoot. Their heads were bowed. Each wore one black glove. As Arledge watched the scene on a control room monitor, he shouted to directors and camera operators: 'Get in there!' He wanted close up pictures of Smith and Carlos. He said, 'This is Black Power!' In a city where people had been killed by government action during peaceful protests, in a time when black Americans protested institutionalized racism, Arledge was prepared. He recognized the social and political significance of the Smith-Carlos scene. Rather than turn ABC's camera away to preserve the IOC's pretension that politics played no part in the Olympics, Arledge shouted again 'Get in on them!'

"[In an interview with Cosell soon after, Smith explained] 'The fist to show Black Power the strength and unity of black people. The shoeless feet to show the anguish of black people all through the years. The bowed head because the words of the anthem were not being applied to blacks.' ...

"The Warren (Ohio) Tribune ... printed a full-page black-bordered broadside with the headline: 'SHAME ON HOWARD COSELL—AND SHAME ON ABC.'

NOTE: Edward's call for a boycott was ahead of its time. In 1980, the U.S. 'asked African countries support a U.S. boycott of the Olympics against the Soviet Union [even though] the United States had refused to join twenty-nine African nations in a boycott of South Africa's presence in the 1976 Olympics.' "


Dave Kindred


Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship


Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright 2006 by Dave Kindred


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