The Olympics with all its pomp and ceremony has always been a world a stage for political protest and commentary. The world looks at Beijing to see what action will join the pantheon of Olympic protest. America in 1968 was turned upside down by the civil rights protests by track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City Olympics. The years have not mellowed the reactions of the American public towards the 1968 protests.American conservative author Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online wrote an article that was published in the Dallas Morning News on the Olympians. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk responded to the Jonah Goldberg article in a open letter that is published on this blog .Jonah Goldberg: '68 Olympics salute deserves no honor
Pictured at rightJonah Goldberg ( courtesy Wikipedia )
12:00 AM CDT on Monday, August 4, 2008 Published Dallas Morning News
ESPN awarded Tommie Smith and John Carlos the Arthur Ashe Courage Award last month at the ESPYs – the sports network's equivalent of the Oscars – for their once infamous, and now famous, black power salutes from the medal platform at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
The stench of self-congratulation surrounding ESPN's decision is thicker than the air in a locker room after double overtime. "As the passage of time has given us the opportunity to put their actions into the proper context," gloats USC professor Todd Boyd in an ESPN.com column, "their supporters can now feel vindicated, while their detractors must eat their words."
The argument that critics must dine on their denunciations rests on an inch-deep nostalgia and the triumph of celebrity culture.
Comments by ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott typify the insanity of ESPN's award. Scott, who was 3 years old in 1968, nonetheless told the Desert Sun newspaper that he remembers how "tense" the times were, and how he remembers thinking, "Oh, that was cool for a black man to do that." He added: "As an adult, I get it even more now." Even more than when he was barely out of diapers? That's setting the bar high.
"I've got daughters," Mr. Scott said, "so I have to explain to them why that was so important, and how much – even after they did it – grief and hatred they had to face when they came back to the States, to their own country. And why that means they're courageous."
By this standard – for want of a better word – any self-indulgent protest at the Olympics is proof of courage.
Is it even worth trying to remind people that the black power salute was, for those who brandished it most seriously, a symbol of violence – rhetorical, political and literal – against the United States?
There's also the fact that the black power salute amounted to an obscene gesture aimed directly at the Olympic ideal. "The Olympic Games as an ideal of brotherhood and world community is passe," declared radical black sociologist Harry Edwards in 1968. "The Olympics is so obviously hypocritical that even the Neanderthals watching TV know what they're seeing can't be true."
In a sense, Mr. Edwards was right then – and now. The Olympic ideal of putting politics aside and celebrating pure athleticism has always been exactly that, an ideal. And all ideals are ultimately unachievable.
China is using the Olympics to paper over the brutality of its repressive regime, just as Hitler did in 1936. In 1972, Palestinian terrorists – grateful for 1968's lesson in the propaganda value of Olympics media attention – slaughtered Israeli athletes. Nations are political entities, so you can't take the politics out of national rivalries.
The question is not, and never has been, whether the Olympic ideal can be achieved, but whether it should be pursued. By embracing those who spat on that idea, it seems ESPN thinks the answer is no. That is assuming ESPN gave much thought to the question in the first place.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning." His e-mail address is JonahsColumn @aol.com.
I want you to know that I took great offense at your column that appeared in Monday's Dallas Morning News which attempted to discredit and debase Tommie Smith and John Carlos for their extraordinary acts courage during the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. I was particularly insulted by your statement.." that the black power salute was, for those who brandished it most seriously, a symbol of violence-rhetorical, political and literal-against the United States".
As a person of color, born in the segregated South , and who came of age in 60's and lived under the crippling inhumanity of Jim Crow , I can assure you that the violence which you now find so offensive, was directed at people of color, and Blacks in particular. It was against this backdrop that Smith and Carlos chose to make their stand. To be certain, the black power salute was not an exhibition of violence against the US, but a visible demonstration of pride in our heritage, our personhood, and a demand for full recognition as Americans.
Just as Jesse Owens chose to participate in the Berlin Olympics and use his marvelous athletic talents to make a stand against Hitler's fascism, Smith and Carlos elected to represent the US while exposing the hypocrisy of the USA's exploitation of Blacks for Olympic glory, yet, denying us full equality at home. This is what so many of us found to be courageous and admirable about Carlos and Smith's demonstration, and what ESPN found worthy of recognition.
Shame on your for tarnishing such a glorious achievement.