Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Body Talk

By Sue Schuurman

OCTOBER 26, 1998: 

30 Years Ago

On Oct. 16, 1968, two U.S. athletes caused an uproar by displaying political body language while receiving their medals on the victory podium at the Mexico City Olympics. Both the International and U.S. Olympic Committees went into emergency sessions, and the acting director of the U.S. committee was incensed enough to claim that the controversial incident made "our country look like the devil." Read on to discover (or recall) just what was so offensive. ...

"MEXICO CITY--The U.S. Olympic Committee apologized Thursday for the conduct of two of its athletes in a victory ceremony Wednesday and warned that any similar act might bring stern disciplinary measures. ...

"'I am embarrassed; all of us are embarrassed,' said (Everett) Barnes, (acting director of the USOC), damp-eyed from emotion. 'It makes our country look like the devil.'

"Both the International Olympic Committee and the USOC went into emergency session Thursday after two of America's black militants, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, staged a demonstration on the victory podium after winning medals in the 200-meter race.

"Smith, from Lemoore, Calif., who won the 200 in the world record time of 19.8 seconds, and Carlos, from San Jose, Calif., each wore one black glove over a clinched fist, black scarves at their necks and buttons saying 'Olympic project for Civil Rights.'

"As the band played the Star Spangled Banner in the usually solemn ceremony, each black athlete raised a hand high in a Black Power salute and fixed his eyes on the ground, refusing to look at the flag.

"Early Thursday, the IOC ... issued a statement which said: 'One of the basic principles of the Olympic Games is that politics play no part whatsoever in them. ... '

"Meanwhile, reaction among athletes and coaches in Olympic Village continued to run a wide gamut of differing opinions. ...

"Jesse Owens, famed four-medal winner of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and now a member of the Olympic Consultants Committee, said ... 'I believe a man has a right to express his opinion and I don't think anybody should get mad. When the spectators booed Carlos and Smith as they left the stadium, they were expressing their opinion.'

"Carlos later blasted the Mexican gallery which he said regarded Negroes as 'animals, lowest animals, such as roaches and ants.'

"Carlos also said the white man treated the black men as show horses. 'They feed you peanuts, pat you on the back and say, "Boy, you did fine."' ... "

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