Tommie Smith and John Carlos were criticized when they raised their fists in protest while receiving their medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics

By Jason Duaine Hahn
September 24, 2019 03:01 PM

Two American sprinters who protested racism with raised fists during the 1968 Summer Olympics — which has lived on in an iconic and powerful photograph of the demonstration — are now receiving the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s highest honor.

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the podium to receive their medals during the Mexico City Olympics five decades ago, they caused an uproar back home. Both men broke protocol and raised their gloved fists into the air to protest racism and discrimination as the national anthem played, according to the Washington Post.

Their demonstration occurred on the biggest stage in sports, amid the civil rights movement back in the United States, and just months after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Though Smith had won gold by breaking the world record in the 200-meter race and Carlos earned a bronze medal in the event, the United States Olympic Committee quickly voted to expel both athletes from the rest of the games, giving them a 48-hour notice to leave.

“The Olympic Games is not a place for demonstrations of any type,” then USOC president Doug Roby wrote in defense of his decision years later, the Post reported.

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John Carlos and Tommie Smith
Tony Avelar/AP/Shutterstock

“If we had let the incident regarding Tommie Smith and John Carlos pass without some sort of action being taken, we might have had some demonstrations of the Czechs against the Soviets, Israel against the Arab countries, South Korea against North Korea, or Cuba against the United States, to mention but a few, and our ceremonies would have been a farce,” he continued.

In the years that followed, both men were excluded from Olympic activities. Now, the men are being praised for the courage they displayed 51 years ago.

The U.S. Olympic Committee will induct the men into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame on November 1, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos, 74, told USA Today after the announcement. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.’ ”

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It is an honor long overdue for both men.

“What I did was right 48 years ago, and 48 years later it has proven to be right,” Carlos told the Telegraph in a 2016 interview. “In 1968, we were on a program for humanity, and we are still on the same program today.”

Carlos and Smith will be inducted along with several other notable athletes, including former WNBA star Lisa Leslie, gymnast Nastia Liukin, beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor, and speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, according to the Washington Post

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