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Raised fists, rising hope: 50 years later, activist athletes reflect on Mexico City Olympic Games

September 25, 2018

John Carlos and Wyomia Tyus speak about modern sports activism at ASU-UNAM event in stadium where '68 salute occurred

When Wyomia Tyus and John Carlos stood in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City for the first time in 1968, they helped launch a movement of athletes raising their voices — and in the case of John Carlos, raising his fist. Their goal was to bring light to racial inequality in the United States. A half-century later, their message still rings loud in stadiums around the world.

On Monday, Carlos and Tyus returned to Mexico City as guests of ASU’s Global Sport Institute and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). On the track of the Olympic Stadium, home to UNAM’s Pumas soccer team these days, the athletes reflected on modern sports activism. They were joined by another athlete and social activist, Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings well known for his outspoken support of same-sex marriage and whose career's premature end many see as a result of his activism.

When Tyus walked through the entrance to the stadium on Monday, accompanied by her daughter, she said she could feel the chills. It was the first time she had returned to the track where she set a world record for the 100-meter sprint and became the first person to win the 100-meter in two consecutive Olympics, having won it four years earlier in Tokyo as well.

Similarly, for Carlos, the stadium is more than a building or a reminder of a moment in time.

“It’s a living organism,” he said. “That stadium breathes.” 

But for a moment, on Oct. 16, 1968, the stadium did not so much breathe as hold its breath. On that day, Carlos and fellow American Tommie Smith took to the podium to claim their bronze and gold medals in the 200-meter sprint. They stepped onto the podium wearing no shoes, only black socks, which represented black poverty in the U.S. Pinned to their chests were badges for the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization established by Smith, Carlos and others to fight racial segregation and racism in sports. Most famously, they each wore a black glove on one hand. When the American national anthem began to ring out through the stadium, they raised their gloved fists and bowed their heads.

“The whole stadium got quiet,” Tyus said. “That’s what I heard. I heard nothing.”

Global Sport Institute and UNAM event in Mexico City

Olympians Wyomia Tyus and John Carlos on Monday visit the track where they competed in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Photo by Mia Armstrong

Soon after, silence morphed into mumbles, which quickly gave way to both boos and cheers. From Olympic officials, the response was harsh — Smith and Carlos were banned from the Olympic Village and expelled from the games.

Carlos and Smith’s gesture has been ubiquitously memorialized as a Black Power salute. But for Carlos, its significance was broader: It was a symbol in support of human rights.

It was also a symbol that had a profound impact on the world, and particularly on Tyus. In a relay race later in the games, she wore black shorts in support of Smith and Carlos and dedicated her medal to them.

Tyus and Carlos reflected on the lasting legacy of their Olympic stories at a public event Monday evening organized by the Global Sport Institute and UNAM entitled “The Power of Sports Activism: From Black Power in Mexico ’68 to the Trump Era.” The event, held on UNAM’s campus, featured Carlos; Tyus; Kluwe; Kenneth Shropshire, the CEO of the Global Sport Institute and ASU’s Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport; as well as Georgina González and Juan Villoro, two leading sports journalists and commentators in Mexico.

Villoro reflected on the profound and wicked effects of racism in the U.S. and Mexico, noting that sports can be a space for both deliberation and manipulation. The salute at the ’68 Games, Villoro said, marked a “before and after” in the world of sport, as well as in the world of civil rights.

Kluwe is part of the “after ’68” generation of athletes and social activists. But similar to Carlos and Tyus, Kluwe’s decision to raise his voice against social inequality was met with icy consequences. Kluwe’s experience was a demonstration of what González identified as an overarching principle of sport and social activism: Those willing to sacrifice their positions of privilege are those who will be able to affect meaningful change.

“It is incumbent on us to show that the world can be a better place,” Kluwe said. “In America, we still have much work to do.”

Carlos and Tyus agreed that not enough has changed since they brought the world’s attention to their fight for social equality in 1968. Today, players like Colin Kaepernick follow in their footsteps — a reflection of the fact that politics are inextricably linked to sports, the athletes said, even if some might prefer to think of them as separate. Kluwe argued that to say there should be no politics in sport is in itself a political statement.

Carlos remains hopeful thanks to the idea that, five decades on, people can look back on his raised fist and find a reason to continue their own fight for social justice. “Everything we did was for this moment,” he said.

And Tyus, who remembers being annoyed as a child when told that she should wear a cowgirl outfit when she wanted to play at being a cowboy, credits the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track program and its legendary coach Ed Temple for opening her path to being not only an Olympian, but someone who could speak up for those without a voice, to try to improve the world.

Running opened the door for her, Tyus told the audience in the UNAM auditorium, “but education kept it open.”

For Shropshire, these moments of reflection are at the core of the Global Sport Institute’s mission. “If we understand the past,” he said, “we can do better today and in the future.”

Written by Mia Armstrong. Top photo: (From left) Kenneth Shropshire, Chris Kluwe, John Carlos and Wyomia Tyus are interviewed at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on Monday. Photo by Mia Armstrong 

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Community engagement crucial for ASU arts students, who learn how to interact ethically

ASU teaches arts students how to engage ethically with communities they serve.
September 25, 2018

ASU's concept of pursuing mutually beneficial relationships is radical for universities, say panelists at Monday event

Working for the benefit of our community is central to the mission of Arizona State University, but it’s actually a pretty radical idea, according to a professor who teaches students how to do it.

One of ASU’s eight design aspirations is “social embeddedness,” defined as: ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships.

In the past few decades, the concept of “community engagement” has moved into academia and arts, said Michael Rohd, an Institute Professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“The common use of that idea was, ‘OK, so this museum, this theater, this dance company, this gallery or this university arts and design school will engage with people so they show up more at our space.’ We tried to expand their experience of our art,” said Rohd, co-leader of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, a New York-based nonprofit organization.

“It was very infrequently that the term was about exchange or dialogue or justice.”

But the concept of seeing engagement as give and take — the “mutually beneficial” partnership — is new, said Rohd, who spoke at a panel discussion Monday night called “Ethics at Twilight: Ethical Community Engagement.” The event was a collaboration between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics to help expose students to the kinds of ethical issues they will face in their careers.

Historically, universities viewed themselves as the holders of knowledge, which they occasionally bestowed on their surrounding communities, according to Lindsey Beagley, the director of social embeddedness for the Office of University Initiatives at ASU.

“Fifteen years ago, when ASU said ‘mutually beneficial partnerships,’ that fundamentally shifts the power dynamic,” she said.

“It implies the community has value. Not only do they benefit by interacting with the university, but the university benefits from interacting with the community.”

Research has proven that direct interaction with community members improves outcomes, she said.

“We know that with increased experiential learning opportunities, we see increased persistence to graduation,” Beagley said.

“We know that when research faculty engage with community partners, they ask better research questions. We also know they ask different research questions, which means innovation.”

All students in the Herberger Institute must engage with people outside the university through the Design and Arts Corps, which works to match community needs with faculty expertise and students’ energy.

Stephani Etheridge Woodson, a professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, is director of the Design and Arts Corps. She said that training the students to interact ethically is crucial before sending them off to meet people. So over the past year, thanks to a grant from the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, she was able to work with people in the community to create video modules that the students watch. The videos give messages like, “Show up with a humble spirit” and “Realize that you don’t know everything.”

“We love risks in arts and design, but we manage them,” Etheridge Woodson said.

Rohd said the video training modules themselves are a game changer.

“The idea of having folks who are not academically credentialed on the platform of technology that the university owns, giving instructions on how to enter, exit or be in the community — it is radical,” he said.

Etheridge Woodson said that ASU Project Cities, in the School of Sustainability, is a good example of a mutually beneficial engagement. Municipalities identify projects they would like done, and faculty create coursework for students to study the problem and create a solution. Last spring, a landscape design class designed a dog park for the city of Apache Junction, and students in Etheridge Woodson’s community theater class created a theater experience based on the city’s history.

Engaging ethically is hard work that takes a long time, the speakers said. Wanda Dalla Costa, an architect and Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute, has been working with the Gila River Indian Community. Her “design sovereignty” project aims to give the community a voice in creating new housing designs that are culturally relevant. Earlier this month, several ASU students spent time talking to community members to discover what features they want in a house. By the time the prototype is built, likely later this year, Dalla Costa will have spent more than three years working with the Gila River people.

But nothing can replace that on-the-ground listening, according to Erika Moore, an alumna of the Herberger Institute who helps run the Projecting All Voices initiative. In her previous job, she worked with people who were experiencing homelessness, walking along the Rio Salado riverbed and talking with them.

“You start by listening. And you listen and you listen and you listen,” she said.

“There are a lot of layers to every story.”

Top photo: Stephani Etheridge Woodson (right), a professor in ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre, speaks about the importance of genuine community engagement at the “Ethics at Twilight: Ethical Community Engagement” panel on Sept. 24. Also pictured is Michael Rohd, Institute Professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (left) and Erika Moore, an alumna of the Herberger Institute who helps run the Projecting All Voices initiative. Ethics at Twilight is an ongoing lecture event sponsored by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News