Tommie Smith, John Carlos to Join Team USA at White House Visit

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2016

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JIM SLATER : 'Forty years after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a civil rights gesture on the Olympic medal stand in Mexico City, protests on the podium could make a comeback in Beijing.'. (FILES) US athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists in the Black Power salute to express their opposition to racism in the USA during the US national anthem, after receiving their medals 17 October 1968 for first and third place in the men's 200m event at the Mexico Olympic Games. At left is Peter Norman of Australia who took second place. / AFP / EPU / -        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
-/Getty Images

American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympics to create one of the most iconic images in United States Olympic history, will join Team USA during a visit to the White House next week. 

Eddie Pells of the Associated Press reported Saturday that United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun asked the duo to serve as ambassadors for the organization at a time when protest spurred by racial injustice has once again become a hot-button topic around the country.

"I think Tommie and John have played an important and positive role in the evolution of our attitudes about diversity and inclusion, not only in the United States but around the world," Blackmun said.

The most memorable moment of the 1968 Mexico City Games came after Smith won the 200-meter dash, while Carlos claimed bronze. Afterward, they each wore a black glove and raised their fists in a Black Power salute while the American national anthem played.

Although the action by Smith and Carlos has become a key moment in the effort to achieve equal treatment, the immediate reaction was negative. Joseph M. Sheehan of the New York Times noted at the time the athletes were suspended by the USOC and organization President Douglas F. Roby told them to leave the Olympic Village.

In 2008, Smith and Carlos were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to mark the 40th anniversary of their decision to take a public stand.

A new series of protests has occurred over the past couple of months. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a trend by refusing to stand for the national anthem during the NFL preseason, a decision he's carried into the regular season.

More athletes, both football players and those from other corners of the sports universe, have followed his lead by either kneeling for the anthem or raising their fist during the song. The phenomena landed Kaepernick on the cover of Time magazine:

The 49ers quarterback explained his actions, which are focused on both racial injustice and police violence, to Steve Wyche of NFL.com in August.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The AP report noted at least one player who's joined the recent protests, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, made reference to Smith and Carlos by wearing a black glove and raising his fist during the anthem ahead of the team's Week 1 contest.

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