A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
LOS ANGELES, CA.—Being a big deal is not necessarily writing for anyone in particular, but making a difference to at least one person when it matters most.
Writers, especially sports scribes for the most part, are faceless creatures whose hands and minds work together for a few hours or less to push their opinions on you to open up a dialogue, or get interviewed on national TV – whichever one comes first.
My joy comes when I make that difference to one person. My person of mention is a young man named Michael Robinson. Michael and I had been in contact for a while, and he’s even promised to take me to lunch (I eat pretty good for free, so bring lots of cash, my man).
He read a column of mine from December 10, 2002 regarding Peter Norman, the silver medalist who was on the dais with John Carlos and Tommie Smith lifting their black gloved fists in the air in that famous picture taken during the 1968 Olympics.
Michael did a lot of work on his own by getting an interview with Mr. Carlos, and setting up e-mail Q&A’s with Mr. Smith and Mr. Norman, but he allowed this writer just one more shot of greatness by setting up a Q&A with me. He set me up with a few questions, to which I responded, “I’ll try to answer your questions in the best way I can.” What sort of affect on history do you think the photo/image had on history? It is one of the most famous photographs in history, and a handful of people know its significance – One of the bigger things the photo does is spotlight the black struggle back then. When you look at the photo, you don’t think of the ’68 Olympics, or anything else, but what those black-gloved fists in the air meant. It’s up there with the more significant photographs of all-time, indeed. I know it is considered one of the most memorable images in history. Do you think what they did help make people realize the racial inequality? Sad to say, I don’t think it made a dent in people’s thinking about racial inequality. It was a large happening for blacks, something they could be proud of and gave some a little hope for the future, but to a lot of people, Carlos and Smith’s actions were regarded as a troublemaking action, and the powers that-be made sure the people knew by sending them home not as heroes, that these two weren’t there as Americans, but troublemakers – just like most of the blacks, at that time, who were marching for equality, and daring to ride in the front of the bus. People now are more tolerant and open, so it’s not until years later that non-blacks are becoming more inviting what these men did on that podium. Did it have any affect on it? Would what they have the same affect if it wasn’t televised? I probably answered both of these in the last answer, but it wouldn’t have mattered where people saw it. The effect of this happening is greater because it happened on live television, as all things do, but it didn’t come off as a lesson to start paying attention to inequality, it came across as an un-American action. Let’s just say that all of those who were well aware of the inequality of the country knew already and were either doing their part to fight against it, or keep it around. The 2000 Sydney Olympics had a bigger impact on the world because of the time we live in now with more open-mindedness to what’s going on around us, and we now know of the bad things that happened with the Aboriginal people there, than we probably knew before those Olympic games.
During the same Olympics, George Foreman waved an American Flag after winning the gold medal, some African-Americans thought he was an Uncle Tom, why? Back then, Black Americans were in a war with their own country. There weren’t treated equally, and were embittered towards the country they had been forced to come to some 200-plus years ago. George Foreman wasn’t being an Uncle Tom, but there were some Blacks who felt they were not affected by what was happening around them – and George Foreman probably never has been affected since then. Most blacks felt it was a lost opportunity for George Foreman to make a stand as well, and he chose not – and it was his right not to, because that wasn’t his personality.
Remember, there was something else very important going on, too, which might have had the most impact on blacks’ impression of George Foreman and his flag waving. Muhammad Ali was battling the government in not wanting to represent the country in Vietnam. Ali was one, next to Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, of the most influential black people in the U.S. at that time, and he tore into Foreman as well, and most blacks followed his lead in turning Foreman into the enemy, or an Uncle Tom. As a journalist, what are your feelings about the two incidences and how it affected society? The Foreman thing didn’t really do much because everybody’s kind of forgiven and forgotten where he’s concerned, and now that he speaks more than he did back then, he has explained himself, and it’s easy to see that he is a proud black man, and his persona as a big teddy bear as put the situation far, far behind us as a memory worth remembering. I can’t really call George Foreman an Uncle Tom for waving the flag, because if we throw him into that mix, then people like Jesse Owens, and significant black athletes who represented the country before 1968 will need to be thrown into that mix, and I’m not bad enough to do that, and I don’t think anybody else is, either.
The Carlos/Smith thing will live on in our lives forever. It gives all people a moment to signify a significant time and situation in American history. The thing that it showed me was that there was a way of getting the point across without riots and other nonsense that I’m against – especially since most of the more popularly-known riots were the destruction of one’s own neighborhoods, which is a practice in insanity. It said, I can dominate you, I can represent you, and I deserve an opportunity to be as human as you are, and treated as such. That’s what the photo means to me.
I hope these help. And that’s all I’ll say about that, except that I’m proud of Michael putting in the work to get his story researched, and going beyond to get as air tight as possible. I’m sure there will be a huge “A” put on the top of the page – which of course, makes me now want to add dessert with that meal…..