Wednesday, August 13, 2008
In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black American sprinters in the Mexico City Olympics that year, stood on the podium sporting gold and bronze medals respectively for the 200-meter track race. During the national anthem, they made history by raising their black leather glove-covered fists in protest of unequal rights in the United States. The medals the young men won for their country soon were forgotten and all attention turned to their civil disobedience. Consequently, both athletes were suspended for the national team and ousted from the Olympic Village. How disruptive and disrespectful was this non-violent protest? Did these athletes burn a flag, turn their backs, or laugh during their national anthem? No they didn't. How are they remembered? For their accomplishments as Olympic athletes or for disrespecting our sacred national anthem with a silent fist in the air--the same national anthem that calls us the land of the free and the home of the brave? Our country remembers them for the latter even though two brave men stood on the podium with hopes for one day to live in the land of the free that the our national anthem refers to.
We are so fortunate that 40 years later we have come so far in our country that an Olympic icon like Michael Phelps has the freedom of expression to laugh through the national anthem as he makes history receiving his tenth gold medal--more than any other athlete in history. How will he be remembered? For disrespecting our sacred national anthem by laughing or for the Olympic history he has made through his accomplishments in the water? You be the judge.