It would become an iconic moment in sports history and the American Civil Rights Movement.
Tommie Smith ascended the dais at the 19th Olympiad in Mexico City to receive the gold medal for the Men’s 200 meters. As the Star-Spangled Banner played, he raised one black gloved fist. Bronze medalist John Carlos did the same. They stood shoeless to represent the sustained racist economic policies faced by poor Black communities in the US.
In 1968 (as today), statements of political nature in sports were considered by many to be antithetical to “the spirit of athletics.” Smith and Carlos were removed from the Olympic village by the Olympic committee to be sent back to the US to face a flurry of criticism.
Now, that same committee is making its form of walk back.
Recently, Smith and Carlos, been inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame. The announcement appeared in the Washington Post on September 26th. In the article, the International Olympic Committee attempts to acknowledge the racism of its past leadership.
In recognition of this work, Goddard College presented Tommie Smith with the 2013 Presidential Award for Activism at a commencement ceremony in Plainfield on October 6th 2013.
Smith received his Masters Degree in Sociology in 1974 from Goddard and has since enjoyed a distinguished career as a coach, educator and activist.
“My time at Goddard College was an unforgettable educational odyssey, and it is an honor to return to receive this award. At Goddard I was able to bring all of my previous academic and life experience together, express myself freely, and develop my understanding of the impact of racism on all aspects of the human experience, particularly in the field of sports.“-Tommie Smith, upon receiving the Presidential Award for Activism in 2013, Goddard College
Smith’s “Silent Gesture” propelled him into the spotlight as a human rights spokesman, activist, and symbol of African-American pride at home and abroad. “I was cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more,” said Smith, “but I made a commitment to dedicate my life, even at great personal risk, to champion the cause of oppressed people.”
Following the Olympiad, Smith went on to play professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals, and became an Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Oberlin College, where he also coached track and field, football and basketball, and served as Athletic Director. Smith became a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978 and served on the coaching staff of the 1995 World Indoor Championship team in Barcelona, Spain. In 2005, he retired from Santa Monica College where he was a faculty member and coach for 27 years.
Working with youth in retirement through his foundation, the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative, Smith inspires athletes through training clinics, track meets, and educational programs to promote heath, wellness and fight childhood obesity.
The Goddard College Presidential Award for Activism recognizes alumni who have made significant contributions in the field of social justice and who embody the mission and values of Goddard College.
To learn more about Tommie Smith, and his continuing fight for justice, go to tommiesmith.com
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