Tommie Smith still waiting for IOC apology; hails 'take a knee'
LOS ANGELES - More than 50 years after his Black Power salute and protest against racism at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith is still waiting for an apology from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
After his victory over 200 metres, the American stood on the podium and stretched his right fist into the night sky wearing a black glove - the sign of the Black Power movement. He also wore no shoes, instead donning only black socks as a symbol of poverty.
Bronze medallist and team-mate John Carlos made the same gesture with his left arm. The photographs went around the world and the action became a landmark moment for the civil rights movement.
The IOC condemned the behaviour as a violation of its charter and threatened the entire US team with expulsion if Smith and Carlos were not sent home immediately, which they promptly were.
Asked whether the IOC had ever apologized to him personally for its actions, Smith said: "No. The IOC has not."
But even today the 76-year-old would welcome any move on the IOC's part.
"It is never too late to do good. Never too late," Smith told dpa in an interview.
Smith's 1968 protest is resonating again after the rise of the 'Take a Knee' movement and in the wake of widespread global protests against racial injustice after George Floyd died after being restrained by a police officer in Minnesota in May.
Ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick popularized taking a knee during the US anthem to protest racial injustice and several sports teams around the world, including in Germany's Bundesliga, have recently performed the action.
"This is change," Smith said. "These athletes are changing something by joining forces. People see that and understand the need for change. I am very supportive of these athletes."
The same understanding was not there in 1968. Smith's athletics career ended at the age of 24.
"That was all I had on my agenda at the time, the eradication of racism in the US. I sacrificed my future for that," he said.
"You can't compare it to anything, no one had ever done that before. Back in the US I had no job, I lost many friends. It was very difficult for me."
Despite all the problems, he believes he helped kick-start something.
"Mexico City was the beginning for people to fight back," added Smith, who later became a teacher and has had a lot of contact with other athletes protesting against racial injustice.
"It has already changed for the better. The movement now is the way it is because many people are getting involved. People are beginning to understand what needs to be changed."dpa