Scroll through modern history and you’ll see it’s not uncommon for athletes – particularly Bay Area athletes – to stand up for what they believe in, despite being vilified.
Among the revolutionaries are Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who created one of the most iconic moments in Olympics history: the 1968 Black Power salute. Winning gold and bronze in the 200 meter sprint, Smith and Carlos took a stand and a big chance.
“It wasn’t so much I was making a statement. I was a black person making a statement. In other words, you just stay in your place. Your job is to go run track and they feel his job is to play football,” John Carlos said over the phone Monday.
The two former San Jose State University students were stripped of their medals and received death threats for years. Carlos says San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick may face similar threats for sitting down during the national anthem in an effort to protest police shootings.
“I think he has to walk through the jungle of ignorance. When I’m talking about when I say the jungle of ignorance is there are a lot of ignorant people out there that don’t fully understand. They get caught up in patriotism and the whole nine yards,” Carlos said.
The Olympian and civil rights activist says he understands how it feels to be in Kaepernick’s position: “It’s difficult for an individual to give the pledge and then feel like a hypocrite five minutes after they give the pledge because the pledge doesn’t cover everyone like it states it does.”
Athletes have been standing up for their beliefs throughout modern history. Baseball star Curt Flood, of Oakland, refused to accept a trade, which eventually changed labor laws. Smith and Carlos owe much of their political awakening to Dr. Harry Edwards, also from San Jose State.
The noted sociologist spoke with Kaepernick at 49ers practice on Sunday, but Kaepernick says Edwards did not advise him on this protest.
In a previous interview with Bay Area Revelations, Edwards shared his thoughts about Smith and Carlos.
“To make that demonstration in the face of all of that danger, recrimination and so forth -- to me was one of the most courageous, committed acts not just in sports but of the 20th century,” Edwards said.
Time will tell how Kaepernick’s protest will impact his career and personal life. However, many athletes are now honored for speaking their minds despite being disparaged at the time of their protests. Smith and Carlos have a statue representing their political stand on the San Jose State University campus.