Fists of Freedom: The Story of the '68 Summer Games (1999) Movie Script

The following
is a presentation
of HBO Sports.
'68 was cram-packed
with enough events
that could have covered
the whole century.
Many cities blew up
in riot, they burned.
Night in and night out.
Smoldering fires
of discontent.
The assassination
of Dr. Martin Luther King.
If his life
was not worth very much,
then who am I?
I don't care how fast
and how far you can jump.
You're still
just another nigger.
It gave them pause to think
about the hatred,
the animosity.
- I am a man.
- Treat me like a human being.
You just can't stop
the stupidity
and the racism
with just words.
That single gesture
was like a stick of dynamite
in a pile of dynamite.
People thought that victory
stand was a hate message.
But it wasn't.
It was a cry for freedom.
"Fists of Freedom:
The Story of the
'68 Summer Games."
During the long,
hot summer of 1968,
a country stood
on the eve of destruction.
Conflict and struggle
was everywhere.
Against the war in Vietnam,
against racial inequality,
against poverty.
It was alongside
that messy backdrop
of political and social unrest
that a group of America's
black track athletes
willingly stepped
into the cauldron.
Well aware of the wholesale
injustice that consumed them,
two of those athletes
took a courageous stand
and delivered a single image
so powerful and provocative,
it remains a part of them
and us to this day.
What's revealing
is how those athletes
at that seminal moment.
John Carlos and his
fellow Olympic sprinters,
Tommie Smith and Lee Evans,
each struggled
with life's hardships
in different parts
of the country.
But their character
and athletic talents
were shaped by similar social
and economic conditions.
"- I came into San Jose State
6'3", about 170 pounds.
Dripping wet.
"Tommy, you're really strong.
"Guys now just can't
keep up with you.
You can run for a mile."
They said, "Did you work out
over the summer?"
I said no.
But actually, I did.
Because I worked in the fields.
My family background
was a farm background.
A hardworking background.
Picking cotton, chopping
cotton, cutting grapes,
feeding the hogs,
milking the cows, everything.
Hey, this is sharp, whoa!
They used to walk up to town
with my 25 cents
and buy ice cream, and be
heckled on the way up there.
"Get out of the road,
little nigger.
Go back to the jungle."
I'm just going
to get me some ice cream.
As the seven kids got up,
and he said,
everybody up,
we're going to work.
I said, "Well, Daddy,
I have a meet today."
He said, "You can run
this Saturday."
"But if you take a second
"you going to be
out in the field
with the rest of your brothers
and sisters next week."
And ever since then,
I got a lot of burn marks
across my chest.
Lee and I met
in the grape fields.
I grew up in rural
Fresno California.
I did a lot of
farm labor work as a kid.
I did farm labor work
until I was 16 years old.
Every summer, all summer.
Sun up to sun down.
If you worked 10 to 12 hours
in the cotton field,
or the grape patch,
then you come
and you bring your cotton
to the scale to be weighed,
and the guy's just
cheating you at the scale,
call you nigger, you know.
I'd buy
a dollar's worth of gas,
and go buy
a dollar's worth of worms,
and go fishing, and catch
enough fish to eat all week.
I saw this young kid
over there,
talking all this smack,
making noise.
And I went over
to one of the other
top sprinters at the time,
I said,
"Who the heck's
this guy over there?"
And he said, "Ah, that's some
high school kid named Carlos."
John Carlos
was New York City.
More specifically, Harlem.
On those streets, Carlos
learned to fight his battles,
and handle his hustles.
He was boisterous
on the track.
He was boisterous
in the classroom.
He was boisterous in
the parties that he attended.
He was boisterous
when he tried to hit on women.
He had an entirely
different demeanor.
Some guy at a service station
was giving his little daughter
some grief,
and John just got out of
the car and smacked the guy.
He just knocked the guy down.
Put the child
in the car and left.
You wanted him
to be your friend,
because you didn't want
John Carlos as your enemy.
was their one chance in life
to escape
doom or poverty.
They had a sense of hope.
For Smith, Evans,
and Carlos,
speed was more
than their salvation.
It was also
an accurate reflection
of their unique personalities.
Tommie was the fastest human
being that I had ever seen.
Bob Hayes at maximum speed
was at 25 miles per hour
between 50 to 75 yards,
and Tommie
was actually increasing
to 28 miles per hour
at 75 meters to 100 meters.
"His stride length,
which averaged 8'5",
actually increased to 8'8"
the last 20 meters
of a 200 meters.
In Sacramento,
California, 1967.
We came off the curve,
I would run, I said, man,
I'm going to beat
Tommie Smith today, boy.
I'm going to beat this guy.
My peripheral vision
picks up a kneecap.
His knees are about as high
as my eyebrows.
When that knee came down,
he's seven meters
in front of me.
I said, no one had ever
passed me, first of all.
And secondly, no one had ever
passed me like that.
It was like
he was on a motorcycle.
He was gone.
it was gazelle-like.
And you had that feeling
that you sometimes
were watching Tommie
in slow motion
even when
he was at full speed.
Lee Evans
was almost the opposite
of Tommie Smith's grace.
You knew he was working hard.
If you had to pick
one athlete in this century
who symbolized
what Kipling would describe
of 60 seconds' worth
of distance run,
it would be Lee Evans.
Lee was the most ferocious,
tenacious competitor
I've ever watched on a track,
and maybe in sports.
His form was not
what you would call classic.
Lee had a running style
that made you call him.
The Tasmanian Devil,
because he was everywhere.
I would weave left,
I weaved right.
Sometimes, his arms,
instead of going up and down,
you'd see them
flailing across the track.
He was like a drunk on
roller skates half the time.
As he came down the track,
it looked like he was
one step away from death.
With John, it was as if
he was on the street
up in Harlem, running from
one fire hydrant to the next.
He'd eat a hot dog,
drink a soda and come out,
and beat most guys.
They're announcing,
last call for the 100 meters.
All of the other guys are down
there at the starting line.
John is sitting up
in the stands,
joking with his friends.
Drinking wine, smoking dope.
After being challenged
by three sprinters,
he walked down
underneath the stands,
took his street clothes off,
got in a track uniform.
And he'd get down
in the starting blocks
and be talking
to the sprinters.
Carlos says in his
heavy New York accent,
"Come on, sucker,
I want to see what you got."
All three gifted athletes
eventually came
to San Jose State.
Smith first, then Evans,
and finally, Carlos.
Each lured to California
by the school's
legendary track coach,
Bud Winter.
San Jose was Speed City.
Touchdown, that's all!
San Jose State was smaller
than USC or UCLA,
which were the larger schools.
And so, there was
a real expression
that said to
the rest of the world,
"Here we are, guys.
Come get us.
Let's see
if you can handle us."
And it was
definitely something
that they knew they had,
and they carried it
with them very well.
And "Speed City"
became kind of synonymous
not only with
just the sprints,
but also a kind of expression
of the athlete himself.
And it was primarily
through the voices
of the black athletes who
were very much individualists,
who also had a certain culture
and character about them.
Tommie Smith
arrived at San Jose State
in the fall of '63.
Afraid of having to go back
and work the fields,
he was determined
not to fail academically.
- I had my horn-rimmed glasses.
- I had my big old bag of books.
I had my trails
to go to the library.
He gave me a sheet of paper,
he said, Evans...
He always called me Evans.
"These are all the classes
you have to take to graduate.
Make sure you take them all."
- Face front.
- Forward.
Smith wasn't
interested in the politics
of the times.
He even joined the ROTC,
his generation's ultimate
conservative symbol.
He was studious, religious,
and not
the least bit rebellious.
We both shared,
I think it was $13,
a little phonograph.
He had a couple
of religious records
that he had brought from home.
I had likewise.
So we'd sit around,
generally in the evening
after we'd finished studying
and play those.
Because I sang
in the choir in church,
and Tommie did as well.
I thought I was Sam Cook
or somebody, you know?
Evans and Smith appeared
to have adapted well
to college life,
but in reality, they
were still black athletes
on a mostly white campus,
surrounded by an
overtly racist community.
After the summer,
you'd come to school,
and you'd start looking
for an apartment.
You call.
"Oh, yes, we have
an apartment for rent."
"Okay, we're going
to come look at it."
I walked up.
"I'm a San Jose State student,
and I'm looking
for a place to stay."
Curtain closed,
chain on the door.
So when you
open the door... click.
"Oh, there's no
apartment for rent.
We forgot to
take the sign down."
And we weren't the only ones.
The black football players,
the black basketball players
were having all
the same experience.
Beyond the athletic realm,
there was the message
that once you
take off that uniform,
you're just another nigger.
There were places
that we couldn't eat.
I was thrown out
of restaurants
that were not a block
and a half from the campus.
We couldn't join fraternities.
So all of those things
created a siege atmosphere.
In 1967,
Harry Edwards
taught a racial minorities
course at San Jose State
that attracted many of
the school's black athletes.
As a former college athlete,
Edwards had
instant credibility.
As an impressive
and magnetic speaker,
Edwards used his bully pulpit
to turn athletes
into advocates
and start a revolution.
Sport was
a legitimate lever
to bring about changes
relative to race.
A battle for dignity
and respect.
We're not animals,
we're not ants.
We're not rats, we're not
roaches, we're human beings.
It was the message of the
larger American society
for African-American people
who sought and desired
to be treated with equanimity.
To be treated with justice,
and it was painful to them.
And it gnawed
at their conscience.
There was a thing
they called a constitution
that just grabbed my soul
and just stopped it.
They felt
an increasing obligation
not despite,
but precisely because
of their athletic visibility
to step up.
Your eyes are open,
and you understand that hey,
maybe I can help
do something about this.
I wanted to make sure
that everybody knew
that Lee Evans is part
of the black social
revolution in America.
We had something to say
to the system.
And we had a platform.
The platform was The Olympic
Project for Human Rights.
Black men and women athletes
at a black youth conference
held in Los Angeles on
the 23rd of November, 1967,
have unanimously voted
to fully endorse
and participate in a boycott
of the World Olympic games
in 1968.
Tommy, a lot of people
are taking this
as a sign of
a lack of patriotism,
uh, on the part
of the black athletes.
- It wasn't a hate campaign.
- We didn't carry guns.
We didn't beat anybody up.
It was a platform of knowledge.
The project had
six aggressive demands,
all of which dealt with
and racial injustice.
If they were not met,
America's black athletes
threatened to boycott
the 1968 Olympic games.
Tommie Smith had reluctantly
attended the initial meeting,
but soon became
a passionate supporter.
Others, mostly conservative
and white,
weren't as accepting,
and their target
was Harry Edwards.
There is a generation
coming up who are going to
tear your ass up
about these very problems.
What in the world
is he doing here?
He doesn't belong here.
Who is this rabble-rouser
coming into our world,
and upsetting the apple cart?
I hope that this
will not be an issue,
and I think
that it should not be.
I think it should be
the merit of the athlete
and certainly, what he does
as an individual is important.
Not what someone
tells him he should do.
I'm all for
letting your cause be known,
but when you become militant
and you start
really adversely affecting
the lives of others,
I think that's kind of
where I kind of drew the line.
So I thought
he was kind of a radical.
A good share
of the distrust, fear,
even loathing of Edwards,
was that he cut through
the hypocrisy
that is both organized sports
and the Olympics.
They saw somebody like Edwards
standing up there
as a visible sign of something
that was dangerous.
Various forms of defecation
have been smeared on my car
and on the windows.
The death threats were daily.
I spoke out a lot
against racism.
I was a captain in
the Air Force at that time.
A soldier came up to me
and he said,
you say another word
on black athletes
and racism in America,
and you're court-martialed,
and you're in Vietnam
the next day.
Do you understand me?
And I had to say "yes, sir."
When I came home
to the school
in which I was teaching,
the principal said,
what did you think about that?
And I said,
I was very supportive.
And he said, well,
I think that anybody
who was supportive of that,
including them,
should all
be shipped to Africa.
And I got hate mail
that said
nobody cares if you go.
You're just
another fast nigger.
Isolated in
the face of intense racism,
black athletes found support
for their project
in unexpected places.
Among them,
the all-white Harvard crew,
themselves Olympic favorites.
I think everybody
on the crew
agreed with the principles.
We felt that
we owed it to ourselves
to see how we could at least
help get a dialogue going.
The fellows on my crew
would write letters
explaining the Olympic Project
for Human Rights
asking the people
who came on the Olympic team
to join with us in a dialogue
to hear what the black
athletes were saying,
and to try to make sure
that we as athletes
started to understand that it
wasn't the same for everybody
and that it shouldn't be
the way it was for many.
In retrospect,
what was interesting
is how few of the letters
were answered.
The Olympic Project
for Human Rights
was a very diffuse
statement of ideals.
One of the things that
appeared, however,
were buttons.
This was the Olympic Project
for Human Rights button
that my guys
and many of the black athletes
took to wearing
that summer in '68,
and it really was
very innocent,
but for us,
the only non-disruptive way
we could say to the world
"these ideas matter."
Racism must go,
racism must go!
But to some,
disruption had its place
and its rewards.
In the winter of '68,
the Project made headlines
calling for the boycott of
the New York Athletic Club's
annual indoor track meet.
The New York AC had
a history of discrimination.
Uh, you know,
blacks were not allowed
to do anything in the
New York AC but work there.
Thus exploiting
black athletes
to support their
racist organization.
Why should that go on?
- No!
- Now!
When several black
athletes ignored the plea,
a question was raised.
If the project's leaders
couldn't get everyone to pass
on a mid-winter meet,
just how realistic was their
planned Olympic boycott?
Was it an individual thing,
or could you get
complete unity,
and do you feel
that there is
a complete unity now?
Or do you think that's
it's still pretty much
an individual thing
amongst the black athletes?
The movement forced all
black athletes to take sides.
- Do I do it or don't I?
- That was the big question.
Should we do this?
Can we do this?
How can we do this?
What are the benefits?
What are the pitfalls?
"Black athletes"
is a term we use,
but they were all individuals
with individual opinions.
And everybody
had their own purpose.
Their own reasons,
their own ideas,
their own identity,
and you were trying
to blend
all of these people together.
So of course,
they had questions.
What's going to happen to us
if we don't run?
It frightened
a lot of black people.
But any time that there is
change of that magnitude,
people are caught
in the lurch.
People are caught
in betwixt and in between.
Are you for a change,
or are you an Uncle Tom?
I, at that time,
was 28 years old.
I had a wife and family.
I had to go to work once the
Mexico City games was over.
I don't want to boycott.
I want to go.
You had athletes
who were in different regions
of the country.
If you're in
a small town in Texas,
or you're in
Tuscaloosa, Alabama,
or Raleigh, Durham,
North Carolina,
you're not going to get it.
When I approached
one athlete:
"You know, brother,
it's time for
black athletes to stand up."
He turned to me
and looked and said,
"Hey, I'm not black.
I'm colored."
I said, oh, okay.
I mean, this was something
that had just not gotten
to the South at that point.
Harry Edwards was in the
West Coast being able to talk.
Let him try that
in Mississippi at that time.
It wouldn't have worked.
I was the only black at the
University of North Carolina,
but I knew that everybody did
not welcome me with open arms.
So I had a responsibility
that I accepted
when I went there,
and I could not
lose sight
of that responsibility.
I couldn't be altogether
because then
that would close the door
for the other guy behind me.
I just thought
that there was just
too much for me to sacrifice.
I wanted a gold medal.
I just tuned it out and said,
"Your goal is Mexico.
And that's it."
So to try
to sell them on the idea
was not just a hard sell; It
was almost an impossible sell.
They were going to go.
And I discovered that
when, in the spring of 1968,
when I went to San Jose
and spent a week talking
not only
with Professor Edwards,
but with
the athletes themselves.
But Harry was very smart.
The press would just go to him.
If you go back and look
at the earliest pictures,
I was wearing a suit and a tie
anytime I went
before the media.
As it became crystal clear
that the name of the game
was keeping the media
attention on the movement,
one had to go right up
to the edge of civility.
I did everything that I could
to speak as uncompromisingly...
We've gotten past this
Uncle Jesse Owens generation
that feels,
"Well, I'll make my pile,
"and forget about the plight
of the rest of the black
people in this country."
As militantly...
The time has passed
where those of us who have
achieved some type
of social standing,
some type of
educational standing
in a racist society
can sit back figure,
well, uh, they're just
the little Negroes,
and they can do that to them.
But they wouldn't dare
do this to me.
This is what got the Jews
in trouble in Germany.
Because the white media
fed on that.
And Harry, in all
his eloquence and size,
and pointing his finger,
would convince them
that a boycott was a reality.
It was
a diabolical conspiracy
on the part
of the white racists,
and their, uh, crackerjacks.
I don't think any of us
understood what he was saying.
Talk about polysyllabic words.
So you had a whole lot
of house niggers
say they didn't have anything
against old master.
But you didn't see none of them
staying at home
when that racist Lincoln
let them go.
I've got to tell you, I still
don't understand his message.
Neither did IOC
president Avery Brundage,
who despised
the project's position.
Brundage had dedicated his
life to the Olympic movement.
First as an athlete,
then an administrator.
Now in his 80s,
he felt it was his duty
to defend the sanctity
and the purity of the games.
The man was
utterly inflexible.
I mean, you could see it
in the way he stood,
in the way he walked.
By 1968, he just never
began to understand
Harry Edward's
position on this.
What he said,
again and again, was...
The fundamental basis
of the Olympic movement
is no discrimination whatsoever
because of race,
religion, color,
or political affiliations.
Therefore, how can you use
the Olympic Games
as a way to protest racism?
To him, it just
made no sense at all.
Avery Brundage
was a pro-fascist racist
who didn't understand
and didn't want to understand
what was going on.
Avery Brundage
was to this movement
what Bull Connor was
to the Civil Rights Movement.
If he hadn't been there,
they would have had to
somehow provoke someone
into that role.
Avery Brundage represented
a generation which
not only knew Negroes'
legitimate place,
knew that Negroes
didn't have the necessities,
but they did
everything they could
to keep Negroes in that place.
He perceived us as a bunch
of misguided clowns.
Brundage was a known racist.
He had a country club
in Santa Barbara
that Jews and blacks
couldn't join.
So he was a racist
down to his toes.
And he was blatant about it.
He was blindly open about it.
A boycott would only be
to the disadvantage
of the boys themselves.
Those boys aren't going to
go down there and do anything.
I don't think any of these
boys will be foolish enough
to demonstrate
at the Olympic Games.
And if those boys
do do anything...
And if they do,
they'll be promptly sent home.
And here they come.
Just two months
before the Mexico City games,
the US track and field team
began a novel
training experiment
in Lake Tahoe, California.
The '68 team was
the first team that went
to an extended training camp.
It was a very unique setup.
We needed to be at
high altitude, at 8,000 feet.
There were no tracks in the
country at that high altitude.
So one was built
at Echo Summit.
I have never seen
a track like that.
That was the most
beautiful place to train.
I mean, it was
absolutely heavenly
to get up and go out
and train every day,
because there were trees
on the infield.
They just cut
a 400 yard oval among trees.
When you were working out,
you disappeared
behind the trees for a while.
Which got to be
fairly interesting
in some of
the practice races we had.
It looks like
Gitten's out front
as they go behind the trees.
Because if
you misjudged your pace,
and you knew you were
going to have a poor finish
some people just stopped
running behind the trees,
and went back
to their dorm room
without finishing the race.
But Echo Summit's
idyllic setting was deceiving.
While the black athletes
in solitude and serenity,
they agonized over
the summer's troubling events.
As the violence in America's
cities intensified,
so did debate
over the movement.
To ensure team unity,
the Olympic boycott
had long been abandoned.
But the summit's environment
compelled athletes
previously uncommitted
to the project
to get involved.
The events of 1968,
especially during that hot,
smoldering, sweltering summer,
propelled them into
a political consciousness
that they had not yet enjoyed.
We, as a people,
will get to the promised land.
The death of
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Was extraordinarily catalytic.
It really made them
think hard and sharp
about the wages of race
in American society.
And then, with the death
of Bobby Kennedy,
who never intended anything but
goodwill toward Americans
of all stripes and hues,
what then
are they trying to tell us?
And so, those black athletes
were a bit more angry,
a bit more willing
to be sacrificial.
You had them
living in trailers.
You had them very close.
You had them really bonding
out of that community.
Out of that camaraderie,
out of that commitment.
Something was happening.
There was a rumble
in the midst.
And at that point, we
could interact with each other
and we could talk
about things.
You can play a part.
You don't have
to just stand there
and just watch everybody else.
Do something;
Don't be on the sideline.
They began to be persuaded
by the logic of Tommie Smith.
They saw he wasn't
a fire-breathing radical.
He wasn't some behemoth of
ideology against white people.
He was simply saying, look, I
want to be treated like a man.
We were not there
to pull the athletes in,
point our fingers
at them and say,
you do this, or you do that.
No, we found another echelon
of understanding.
The more I thought about us,
the hate letters,
the phone calls,
it kind of made me realize
that these guys are saying
something that made sense.
It was okay to be different.
It was okay
to have an opinion.
That when you go to the Games,
you take yourself with you.
What you do,
and how you do it,
is going to have an impact.
It boiled down to, well,
you're not going to boycott,
but what are you going to do?
Everybody was going
to wear black socks.
Some guys said, well,
I can't run in socks.
We said, well,
let's all wear black armbands.
"Oh, I can't run with a black
armband," some guy would say.
I remember going out
with a fever,
going shopping for shoe polish
to dye my shoes black.
We thought a minute, oh,
we paint our shoes black,
then we can't get our money
under the table
from the shoe companies.
Right, because, you know,
Adidas and Puma
would give you some money
to wear their shoe.
We couldn't come to a uniform
protest, so finally...
What we concluded, let us
not try and do one thing.
Let everybody choose their own
way to express their feelings.
- Do your own thing.
- And we will be heard.
Ironically, after
finally coming to a consensus,
America's black track athletes
headed straight into
another political mess.
In the weeks
leading to the Olympics,
Mexico City, the host of the
'68 games, was under siege.
There was a history
of confrontations
between small
student demonstrations,
and groups in Mexico City
and elsewhere in the country.
And in the city,
particularly between students
and the Granaderos,
the riot police,
who were a particularly
brutal lot composed
largely of former felons.
The government didn't accept
any kind of real opposition
or any kind
of other alternatives
to open their system.
To make it more democratic.
The government
continued its repression,
and the movement
continued to expand,
and the movement
became national.
This was the first time
any third world country
had ever hosted
an Olympic games.
The government felt itself
to be under enormous pressure.
To make sure the Games
went off efficiently.
That all of the construction
projects were finished.
That nobody had any trouble.
This is a matter
of national security.
The Olympics are a matter
of national honor,
and something has to be done.
The way you solve this problem
is you clean the streets.
They decided
to start shooting.
And down in Mexico City,
students threatened
the Olympic Games,
and the government
sent troops.
All the people
that got wounded,
calling for help,
and that smelling of blood.
For us, it's a genocide.
They reported that there
had been some clashes.
Thirty-seven had died;
Everyone knew in Mexico City
that the number 37
was too small,
that the government
was lying,
Some people actually
counted more bodies.
There was a military camp
close to Mexico City.
They did have the ovens
to burn trash.
Many of those bodies
were burned there.
Others were thrown
in the Pacific Ocean.
We counted one
after another one.
I should say that at least,
between 300 and 500 people
got killed there.
Men, women, and children.
It was something
that I will never forget.
It's always hurting my heart,
hurting my conscience.
And it won't go away.
I got a call from
Associated Press in New York,
reporting that they
had slaughtered
a couple hundred students,
and they wanted to know,
would the Olympic team
move out as scheduled?
And without even
waking up the brass,
I said, we will be
on that plane
at 8:00 tomorrow morning,
which we were.
We got to Mexico City.
Those that had survived
the, uh, shootout,
had been sent off
to the mountains
to remain until the Games
were over.
When I first arrived
in Mexico City,
the drive from downtown,
where the hotels were,
where the elite of the world
were going to be staying,
to the Olympic stadium,
on both sides of the road,
were these old shanties.
In that week
from when I arrived
until the Games began,
every one of those shanties
was painted a brilliant color.
The government wanted
to give an image
to the whole world
of control and order.
From the moment
we arrived there,
we were kind of suspicious.
This is very strange,
and a little ominous
to see the entire stadium
surrounded by military
with weapons
at every portal, every gate,
every staircase.
We've conferred with
the Mexican authorities,
and we have been assured
that nothing will interfere
with the peaceful entrance
of the Olympic flame
into the stadium
on October 12th,
or with the competitions
which follow.
In that schizophrenic air,
the Mexico City games began.
Vibrant and colorful,
they contrasted sharply
with the tension that had
gripped the host city,
and the American team.
The backdrop was insanity.
And the electricity
of all this energy,
negative, positive,
got into us, and we performed.
The gun went off,
and I was bulletproof.
There was nothing
that I couldn't do.
We performed superhuman stuff.
Al Oerter winning a fourth
consecutive gold medal.
Randy Matson
winning the shot put.
Bob Seagren in the pole vault.
And of course,
who could forget.
Dick Fosbury in the high jump?
Coming in with a new style
that was laughed at.
And here's Fosbury,
very much an individualist,
saying "I can do it my way,"
and he did it.
On the track,
black women,
whose opinions
had been regretfully
ignored by the men,
won three gold medals.
Two by Wyomia Tyus.
The performance of
the men's team was astounding,
in some ways, even historic.
Led by the sprinters,
black athletes won seven
of the track team's
remarkable 12 gold medals
and smashed
five world records.
1968 was a sort of
coming out party
for these black athletes.
Because for the first time,
the image of the lone,
isolated black athlete...
Jackie Robinson,
Rafer Johnson, Jesse Owens,
was deferred
to this powerful notion
that most of the athletes
are black.
These black men, in all of
their black pride and beauty
at this spectacle
of their own achievement,
were representing America.
Regardless of
their own disgruntlement,
they represented America
at its best.
The athletic field
was the one domain
where sheer ability
was to win the day.
There was no affirmative
action on the one hand,
no segregation or Jim Crow law
on the other hand.
This was about
"can you do the do?"
Can you go out there
and run the run?
Can you best
the person next to you?
There was a stylization
of black rage.
It's not about hatred.
It's about joy.
It's about celebration.
Standing up at the head of
that runway, you're onstage.
A feeling that you're between
time and space,
where you really don't hear
anybody around you.
I only heard myself.
Heard my heartbeat.
I heard the sounds of
the pounding of my feet
going down the runway.
I'm now ready
to make my attempt
to win the gold.
He had the most perfect run
up he's ever had in his life.
He went zoom.
And suddenly,
just by instinct,
I just wanted to fly.
It looks like
a marvelous jump.
He just looked like
he was soaring.
He's going, he's going,
he's going.
Past 27 feet, past 28 feet,
past 29 feet.
And when he landed
in the pit,
there was a collective "whoa!"
- Wow!
- Whoo!
I jumped out of the pit,
and I turned around,
and I saw this man
standing at the scope,
trying to measure
the distance out.
He just stood there for
a good two or three minutes.
"What is going on?"
So they said that
they're bringing
in a manual tape.
And they finally found
a tape to measure,
because the sight device would
only go to eight meters 60,
which is 28 feet,
and they measured it,
and flashed the distance
on their board.
He jumped eight meters 90.
Me and Ralph couldn't believe
that he had jumped
eight meters 90,
because we thought
it was 809, 27 or 26 feet.
Bob came to me and said,
"Ralph, how far is that?"
He was calculating because
he's so used to doing meters.
- He said, Bob, you just jumped...
- 29 feet.
That's more than 29 feet.
And he said...
I collapsed.
While I was
down on the ground,
I just thought that maybe
I'm going to wake up
and say
"Wow, this was a great dream."
Beamon leaped
29 feet, 2 1/2 inches.
A record that stood
for more than 20 years.
The jump's
immediate impact
was eclipsed by two men
who ran 200 meters
straight into history.
You had Tommie Smith and
Johnny Carlos, my goodness.
To us, third place
was for somebody else.
When the guy said "on your
mark," I said a little prayer.
It was like a volcano
getting ready to explode.
That's a good start.
And Carlos, as usual,
has burst out of the blocks.
With about 40 meters
of the race gone,
John had a gold medal
in his hand.
In the next 50,
Tommie Smith came through
like a bullet
with his Tommie jet gear.
And I quickly found Carlos.
Looked at his face
and said good-bye.
Lifted his knees, and just went
on down the straightaway.
Right now,
it's Carlos and Smith.
And here comes Tommie Smith!
Smith has done it,
with his hands in the air!
Tommie Smith won
the race in world record time.
But John Carlos finished third
behind Australian
Peter Norman.
If you look at my face
at the end of the race,
it's a genuine smile.
Now, the next step
was the victory stand.
It was on the way up to the
podium that I said to John,
have you got one of those
buttons that I could wear?
And he said, "If I give you
one, would you wear it?"
I said yeah, sure.
Even though I was probably
the wrong color,
I believe in human rights.
I believed in what these
two guys were about to do.
As he approached
the victory stand,
a lifetime of building emotion
washed over Smith.
He had won his race.
The eyes of the world would
now be on him and John Carlos.
And no one would look away.
Tom and I, we were
sitting in the stands
during the 100 meter final.
And Avery Brundage
came out to present
the 100 meter medal
to Jim Hines.
I thought that this meant
that every medal ceremony,
Avery Brundage come out
and give you the medal.
I said, Tommy, I don't want to
shake Avery Brundage's hand.
I said, I know what we'll do.
Let's get some black gloves.
Tommie's wife was Denise then.
And I called her in
Mexico City, I said, Denise,
bring me some gloves.
So I had the gloves in my bag.
I knew whatever I did
had to be visual.
As soon as the National Anthem
started playing,
my glove is going toward God.
The black fist in the air
was only in recognition
of those who had gone.
It was a prayer of solidarity.
It was a cry for help
by my fellow brothers
and sisters in this country
who had been lynched,
who had been shot,
who had been bitten by dogs,
who water hoses
had been turned on.
A cry for freedom.
You could almost hear the wind
blowing around my fist.
But I heard Lee Evans, very,
very vividly, said "Oh, shit."
And I looked up
and I saw animals.
I saw animal faces.
The jeers, the fingers.
There were boos, there were
whistles, there were tears.
The leadership
of the US team was aghast.
- We are not antichrists.
- We're just human beings
who saw a need
to be recognized.
I don't like the idea of people
looking at it as negative.
It was nothing but
a raised fist in the air
and a bowed head,
the American flag.
Not symbolizing
a hatred for it.
What hurt, an agonizing hurt,
for the old heart of America,
was everybody saw it;
The entire world saw it.
They were wrong.
You are supposed to observe
due order and decorum
to the Nth degree
at every victory ceremony.
If you're invited
to someone's home,
and they say you have to
wear a shirt and tie,
you wear a shirt and tie,
or else you don't go.
The USOC felt that
these boys should be grateful
for the opportunity
that we gave them
and how dare they
have the audacity
to embarrass their country
in the eyes of the world?
The IOC board
met the following morning.
Mr. Brundage blew his stack.
"You tell your board that
if you don't take action
"by tomorrow at noon,
your whole track team
is disqualified for the
remainder of the Games."
With that threat,
the board voted unanimously
to send these two boys home
and ban them from
the Olympic Games for life.
Get your medal, go home,
a pat on the head.
Go back to
where you were, nigger.
I'm pretty
pissed off already
with a lot of white people,
so leave me alone, okay?
I'm asking you the last time.
The next man come up
and put a camera in my face,
I'm going to knock him down
and jump on him, you hear?
Many in the
mainstream American media
reacted with venom.
Brent Musburger of
"The Chicago American"
wrote in his column:
"Airing one's dirty clothing
before the entire world
"during a
fun and games tournament
"was no more
than a juvenile gesture.
"Smith and Carlos
looked like a couple
of black-skinned
storm troopers."
Give us a few seconds, huh?
Angry and disillusioned
over their team's dismissal,
other black Olympians
considered further protest.
Typically, the USOC's
plan to stop them
was hopelessly misguided.
They knew somebody
had to speak directly
to those who potentially
might do something more.
Jesse Owens was recruited.
- Jesse was an icon.
- He was from another planet.
He was not black;
He was an American.
And Jesse walked in
with a big smile.
Jesse Owens was
Avery Brundage's poster boy.
Politics has no part to play
in any athletic
program whatsoever,
and particularly so as far as
the Olympic Games
are concerned.
We felt like they had
brought in somebody
to try to tame us.
I said, we go back home from
here, we can't even get a job.
He said, oh,
I'll find you a job.
And you know he was lying.
It was pitiful; He was giving
his speech to the wall.
The black athletes
could look at Jesse Owens
and say we could
do what you did.
We could go to the Olympics,
keep our mouths shut.
We could come back,
and we'd be racing horses.
With all your great gold
medals, when you came back,
nothing really great
happened for you.
We don't want you here,
Uncle Tom.
Get the hell out of here.
And Jesse started to cry.
I saw him wiping tears away,
and he said,
"How can my brothers
do this to me
"when I was responsible for
getting them to this position
of prominence
at their end of day?"
Well, you may actually
want something to say.
Enraged by
his friend's expulsion,
Lee Evans first decided
not to run the 400 meters.
But in their last act
before leaving the village,
Smith and Carlos
convinced him to reconsider,
even as Evans
feared for his life.
- Nothing, okay?
- Leave me alone, okay?
I checked my mailbox
in the morning of the race.
I had telegrams
from the Ku Klux Klan.
The White Angels, we know,
they're going
to shoot me today.
You know, at 2:00, I mean,
they give you the time
they was going to kill you.
Ooh, man.
It was heavy on my back.
I was in shock.
I was afraid for my life
the whole time.
You know how,
before a thunderstorm,
how the wind stops
and it gets really quiet?
I'm going to lay it out
in this race.
Burn up this emotion
I have inside.
They shot the gun,
I was gone, man.
Lee Evans is really going
as they head toward
the top of the stretch.
The Americans are going
to go one, two, three.
Lee Evans
beating out Larry James,
with Ron Freeman third.
Amid the fury, Evans led
a United States sweep,
blazing around the track
in world record time.
Howard Cosell
was calling me.
"Hey, Lee, Lee.
Just wanted to come over
for an interview."
I said, who won, who won?
Who won?
He wanted to ask me
what I was going to do
on the victory stand,
of course.
The big question,
what are you going to do
at the award ceremony?
We did what we said
we were going to do.
We wore our black berets.
Black berets then were worn
by the Black Panthers.
We took them off
during the playing
of the National Anthem.
I wanted to show black pride.
I'm doing my part.
The young man you're looking
at is George Foreman...
Nearly a week later,
as the controversy surrounding
the track athletes
continued to swirl,
boxer George Foreman
applied a red, white,
and blue bandage
on a hemorrhaging America.
I hit this guy, and
I'll never forget hitting him
real hard a few times,
and he kept coming.
The only dominant thing I had
was my left jab.
Oh, that left is getting in
to Chepulis very effectively.
Oh, another left.
Eventually, I decided,
maybe I should throw
a right hand too.
He caught him with a right,
and then a follow-up left.
Oh, the Russian is being
beaten all over the ring.
And when I did,
the fight was over.
Referee stops contest.
George Foreman
with a tremendous,
and overwhelmingly
powerful performance.
But I remember at ringside,
looking up and seeing George
pull out an American flag,
and walk around the ring.
I felt so good about
having that flag in my hand.
I started waving it.
We did it!
And I wanted to show
the whole world.
Not only George Foreman
had won a gold medal,
but America did it.
We were frankly
a little bit down
after the Smith
and Carlos incident,
and those of us
who were at ringside
were really emotionally moved.
In 1964,
I was a mugger, a thief.
Digging my way into the mud
so that dogs can sniff me out
and take me to jail.
Less than four years later,
I'm standing on a platform
putting a gold medal
around my neck
with the promise
of a better life.
Coming on
the Games' final weekend,
Foreman's act was positive
and patriotic.
The last image
of a troubling Olympics.
But not its lasting image.
That remained John Carlos
and Tommie Smith's
simple but stark protest.
A powerful moment that
galvanized black unity
in ways even they
could not have imagined.
We saw the fist as not only
a courageous gesture,
but we also saw the fist
as symbolic of
black men who would stand up
and erase this society.
That moment was as profound
to those of us who were young
as Rosa Parks' refusal
to stand up on the bus
in Montgomery
and to give up her seat
was to a prior generation.
Black people
throughout the country
were greeting each other
and signaling our own pride
with a raised fist.
Everybody stood up
and did this.
We are an African people!
We are an African people!
I want you to take...
It really affected
the black college students.
It made them heroes
in the black community.
You'd go into
a party or somewhere,
and you'd see a poster.
Tommie Smith, John Carlos.
I had no idea it would have
that much impact.
Racism must go!
Racism must go!
In the shadow
of the fist,
each had done what
they thought was right...
For their country, for their
people, for themselves.
And for those beliefs,
however strong,
each would be
held accountable.
A friend of mine
walked up to me and asked me.
"How could you do that?"
I said, what do you mean?
"You know, with the flag."
While he may have been
an innocent kid
going into those Games,
George Foreman became
an object of disgust.
We saw George as standing
for the old style Negro.
It didn't occur to me,
nor did it matter to me,
that people would take it
one way or another.
I went there
to win a gold medal.
That's why there was
such a celebration
by political activists,
by black militants,
when Mohammad Ali dusted
old flag-carrying George
in Zaire in 1974.
Ali didn't just
defeat George Foreman.
He defeated what many
from my generation
still consider to be
the ultimate Uncle Tom.
Uncle George, who had carried
the flag in Mexico City,
while others had stood
for human dignity.
Actually, you won this
for a cause, as you see it.
- Yes, I did.
- What's that cause?
For black people
all over the world,
and for my friends
and family in San Jose.
Those friends
believed Evans
would also
make a powerful statement.
When he didn't,
they felt betrayed.
People thought
that I should throw
a Molotov cocktail
at the victory stand.
I guess this is
what people thought
I should have done
back at home,
because when I got home,
everybody was angry with me.
"Oh, you let us down."
There was a teasing of Lee
that got really ugly
when he came back
to the streets of San Jose.
Many people thought
that he had done
just a watered-down
And he was stunned,
he tried to explain.
Well, why are you guys
smiling so much
on the victory stand?
I say, shit, man, some guys
are supposed to shoot me now.
But I smile a lot, man.
And maybe they can't shoot a
guy who's smiling, you know?
That was the only thing
that was on my mind
at the victory stand.
Being shot dead.
And very few people
would listen.
I said, look, man, if you
wanted to raise your fist up
in the Olympic Games,
you should have made the team
and did it yourself.
His tremendous contributions
were all forgotten.
His tremendous performance
on the track was ignored
by the people that he
really wanted to impress.
John Carlos
returned a hero
in the same community.
Though valiant and courageous,
his gesture was perceived
by some as ironic,
given his level of commitment
in the previous year.
I was really surprised
he did anything.
I asked Tommie, I said, how'd
you get Carlos to do that?
Because John
never came to any meetings.
He said, oh, I just
gave him my left glove
and told him to do what I do.
I said, is that it?
He said, yes.
I said, shit.
Then Carlos come back,
and all of a sudden
he's a black spokesman.
This was an individual thing.
Everyone did what they
thought that was right.
Tommie and John were making
speeches around the country.
Tommy came to me,
"You know what Jonny's saying
at these speeches about you?"
That I got more concerned
about winning medals
than for the black movement.
And he was the guy who never
even came to a damn meeting.
I went to his house
and called him out the lawn.
I wanted to kick his ass.
Many felt the same
way about Harry Edwards.
The Olympic Project's
principal architect,
and instrumental leader in
the movement's early stages.
He did something great, man.
He brought black consciousness
to me and to a lot of guys.
But he had nothing to do with
the protests in Mexico City.
From June to October,
we never even
heard or saw Harry Edwards.
We never talked about him.
He never called us.
We never saw him.
We hadn't seen him since June.
The Olympics was in October.
So he had nothing
to do with the protests.
- He didn't go to Mexico City.
- He should have been there.
He sent his troops
off to battle in Mexico City,
and he himself stayed home
because he had
received death threats.
Well, so did everybody
who went to Mexico City
who was thinking
of speaking out.
And then,
when Tommie and John
came back from Mexico City,
Harry got all the rewards.
Harry got his position at Cal.
He got all these
speaking engagements.
Tommie and John had nothing.
The bottom line with
Harry Edwards in my mind
is I feel that Harry Edwards
was a great opportunist.
Opportunists, typically,
take advantage
of situations
wherein for them,
there is some gain.
For me, in this situation,
there has been a tremendous
amount of pain, loss.
I was immediately fired
from my job at San Jose State.
I was put under
intense FBI surveillance
at my home, any place I went
for the next ten years.
He climbed the backs
of many athletes
to enhance Harry Edward's
goals in life.
- I don't buy that.
- I don't respond to it.
I mean, everybody is supposed
to be piloting their own ship.
History now links
Smith and Carlos forever.
One minute of their life
for which they payed
the steepest price.
After the games,
both were branded as outcasts.
Carlos suffered immensely,
losing his wife to suicide,
while the pain and anguish
of exclusion
nearly took down Tommie Smith.
- We were hungry.
- We were broke.
We had no place to go,
I had to go back
to the house which I had,
which was behind rent.
We borrowed $2,000 from
Jim Brown, the great Jim Brown,
and when I got back,
he asked for it back.
We were destitute.
I had to wash cars.
World record holder
of 11 records,
down at North American Pontiac
washing cars in the back
with a big sign out front.
"Come and see our Olympian,
Tommie Smith."
They would call me out
in the back.
"Uh, Tommie,
you have a customer up front."
Like I was a salesperson
or something.
I had to pull off
my old dungarees,
and fluff my little tie up,
and come up
with a big smile on my face.
"Hi, I'm Tommie Smith,
how are you?"
They'd talk to me a few
minutes, get the autograph.
Oh, little Jonny
get an autograph.
And as soon as they finish up,
I go back out to
the back lot out there,
put my washing clothes on,
and continue washing cars.
Tommie Smith could
have avoided the despair.
He could have
escaped the misery.
Instead, on a warm October
night in Mexico City,
he and John Carlos
turned a simple race
into a defining moment
in American history.
In victory, they bowed their
heads and drove to the sky
their fists of freedom.
They were not
terrible people,
but they were people who saw
wrong and tried to right it.
Much as Gandhi,
or King, or Malcolm.
Remember them as people
who were brave.
It yanked me out of
the cocoon of my innocence.
And I didn't understand all of
the sophisticated nuances
or the political
implications of it.
But what I understood was,
that they were identifying
with black people.
Look, you can be both part
of an American tradition,
but you don't have to
forget where you came from.
And you don't have to forget
the people
who were left behind.
I was one of those who said,
"My God, who do these guys
think they are?"
Three decades later, these
guys proved to be correct.
It opened everybody's eyes
like anybody
that starts a revolution.
You can read things
into the picture,
but you can't help but be
caught up in the drama of it.
There's a sense of grief.
But on the other hand,
we're hoping to go
into a future that's better.
There were people who had
sweat great drops of hardship.
That had dropped
to their knees and prayed
for a Tommie Smith,
and a John Carlos,
to be able to be in a point
at which they could speak.
It was Tommie and John's
contribution to history,
no matter what situation
that you were going through.
Whether it be athletics,
education, in the workplace,
at home, against all hope.
No matter what
the adversities.
It was okay to make a stand.
Two simple athletes
who ran in circles
captured the entire world
for a brief moment.
This has been
a presentation
of HBO Sports.