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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tommie Smith & John Carlos Revisited

ESPN has done quite a bit of programming related to Black History Month, but their showcase piece this year is a 1-hour film titled "Return to Mexico City", about Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their famous protest in 1968, and the intervening 40 years.

I finally got around to watching it, and it's pretty good. It's less than perfect, but they do have only one hour to work with (and ESPN is hardly PBS). For example, they highlighted the description "black-skinned stormtroopers" that was used to describe Smith and Carlos, but neglect to mention the columnist who wrote it: Brent Musberger.

For those who want to learn more about what really happened, the best source I've come across yet is Frank Murphy's "The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City". If anyone deserved to still be mentioned with Tommie Smith and the Olympic Project for Human Rights some 40 years later, it's not Carlos but Evans. They were good friends and the heart of the organization, while Carlos was seen as a bit of an interloper and opportunist.

If you're like me, and "academic writing" doesn't necessarily mean "boring", there's a treasure trove of sports history at, the website of the Olympic Library in Los Angeles. Below I've culled out some of the best scholarly works related to track & field and Black history.

American Ideas about Race and Olympic Races from the 1890s to the 1950s: Shattering Myths or Reinforcing Scientific Racism?

Publshed in the Summer 2001 volume of the Journal of Sport History, Penn State prof Mark Dyreson put together the definitive history of racism and track & field.

Revisiting The Revolt of the Black Athlete: Harry Edwards and the Making of the New African-American Sport Studies
While the OPHR soon tired of Edwards' self-promotion, he's still an important figure in the history of Black track & field. This is a revisitation of Edwards' book referred named in the article's title, which is one (but not the only) insider's story of the OPHR.

It’s Never Black and White: Differences in Newspaper Coverage of Tommie Smith-John Carlos’ 1968 Olympic Black Power Salute
For a good portion of the last century, most cities had two newspapers, one written for whites and one for blacks, and this paper examines their coverage of the event.

Book Review: Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete: The 1968 Olympic
Protests and Their Aftermath

The Olympika journal reviewed the 2003 book written by Douglas Hartmann, which examines the before, during and after of the protest.

Fanning the Flames: Avery Brundage, the USOC, and the 1968 Black Power Revolt
This article looks at the actions by the old white men which escalated tension and virtually guaranteed a protest would take place.

Avery Brundage and Racism
He was a racist, anti-Semite, and pro-Nazi.

There's plenty more at the website.

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