Black Athletes

The black athletes, however, continued to meet among themselves. In September 1968, after Avery Brundage, the chairman of the IOC and an American, declared there would be swift punishment for any athlete involved in political demonstrations at the games, several offended black athletes, including Smith, Carlos, and Evans, decided that each athlete should act on their own conscience with approved individual demonstrations at the games. Smith and Carlos’s demonstration was the most visible and compelling of the several protests and is primarily noted because it accompanied the performance of the U.S. national anthem. The following day, the U.S. Olympic Committee banned Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Village, further angering blacks and their allies and prompting more protests at the games.

As the black fist came to represent power, pride, and protest over the next few decades, Smith and Carlos’s lives suffered in comparison to other champion athletes. Both remained pariahs in mainstream sports circles for more thirty years after the demonstration, and it affected their economic and social livelihoods. Smith played sparingly for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals for three years. After retiring, he slept on friends’ couches until he found steady work as a track coach in the 1980s and 1990s. Carlos also played in the NFL for a few seasons, before working several odd jobs over the next decade. In 1977, his ex-wife committed suicide, which Carlos believes was induced by the FBI’s continual harassment of his family. Edwards completed a doctorate in sociology and is noted for conceiving the academic subfield of sports sociology. He retired as professor emeritus from the University of California at Berkeley and has worked as a counselor for several Bay Area sports franchises.

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