John Carlos, who raised fist during 1968 Olympics, praises St. Louis Rams players
Carlos, who along with Tommie Smith famously raised their fists in a human rights salute while on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics, said the five Rams’ players who mimicked the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ pose used by Ferguson protesters had courage. ‘Their job was to go out and to play football, that doesn’t preclude them from what’s happening in society,’ he said.
By Meg Wagner | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
One of the two black sprinters who defiantly raised his fist during the 1968 Olympics defended the five St. Louis Rams players who walked onto their home field Sunday, arms raised in solidarity with the Ferguson protesters.
Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos and his teammate, gold medalist Tommie Smith, earned front page headlines across the world during an era of dramatic racial tension just six months after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
While 46 years and 1,700 miles separate the 1968 Mexico City games and Sunday’s St. Louis Rams match, the two gestures carry the same message, Carlos, now 69 years old, told the Daily News Tuesday.
“(The Rams players) realize that there is a need for a voice and they had the right opportunity — like we did — to be that voice, to be heard.”
The Rams’ raised arms symbolized the rallying cry of Ferguson activists: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” The move pitted the team against furious St. Louis cops.
Ferguson, St. Louis and nationwide demonstrators have used the move while protesting the death of black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. Some witnesses claim Wilson fired while the teen’s hands were raised.
Carlos said that while the five Rams — Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook and Chris Givens — are professional football players, they are citizens first.
“Their job was to go out and to play football, that doesn’t preclude them from what’s happening in society,” he said. “They’re concerned about humanity, with young black kids being gun downed. This is rampant. This has been going on for some time. People are fed up.”
Carlos and Smith gained international fame during the 1968 Summer Games, first for their track and field wins for the USA and then for their silent, fist-up symbol while accepting their medals.
Originally, commentators dubbed the raised fists a Black Power salute, but the two later explained it was a call for human rights reform everywhere. The International Olympic Committee was furious with the political statement: while the two athletes got to keep their medals, they were suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village.
Carlos said his 1968 demonstration stemmed from a desire to “open people’s minds.” With an international audience, he felt it was his responsibility to bring the issue into the limelight.
“It’s anyone’s duty to speak up,” he said.
That’s the same calling the five Rams players felt on Sunday, he said.
“It takes courage. It takes willingness. It takes insight,” he said.
During the Rams’ Sunday home blowout against the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Police demanded an apology from the team.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told his staff Monday that Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, had made the apology. But the team quickly fired back to dismiss the claim: while the team had “positive discussions” with the force, it did not say sorry for the gesture.
Carlos said none of the five players needs to apologize.
“They speak volumes for those who cannot speak up,” he said.