Olympic medalist John Carlos talks race relations spanning last 4 decades

Olympic medalists John Carlos (seated) and Herb Douglas
Olympic medalists John Carlos (seated) and Herb Douglas (Photo by @Sistarazzi for Steed Media Service)

Dr. John Carlos is a former professional football player and track and field athlete. During the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City he won the bronze-medal for the 200 meter race. Carlos and his teammate, Tommie Smith, faced suspension by the U.S. Olympic Committee for their courageous act of giving the “Black Power” salute during the Olympic medal presentation and were later forced to leave Mexico City.

“My statement is for humanity, but they were trying to make it a black power thing.” said Carlos. For John Carlos and his teammates the games were such an important piece of history.


Raising their clenched fists above their heads in black gloves stood for much more than what millions of spectators could see. Carlos made a silent but bold statement and gave African Americans hope who were facing racial discrimination.

Carlos set down with rolling out to discuss the importance of speaking up as an athlete, his experience with the Olympics, and the future of our young people.


Read what he has to say. –lauren martinez

What was your experience like in that ’68 Olympics?

It was definitely the greatest Olympics thus far. There was so much high energy.   I don’t think people were aware of the enormous amount of pressure that these young individuals had on them during that time. It was like a tug of war where a lot of people wanted to attend the games and others were on the fence. There were a lot of political overtones taking place during that particular time. There was also turmoil going on within Mexico City because of the student movement where 3500 young people were killed. There was an overall energy of the athletes amongst each other versus the energy of the spectators in the stands. Black consciousness was alive and well during this specific time. Blacks from Africa, America, and the Caribbean, all came together as one. It didn’t matter where you were from if you were black then you were sensationalized. It got overwhelming but there was so much excitement for the individuals that won.

How would you compare the way things are now compared to what was happening back then in terms of racism in America?

When George came out with the flag and said we are all Americans regardless of what your ethnic background. Unfortunately the general public was getting their perception from the media, but he inspired us. The media outlets were creating a divide. George took a terrible beating for his stance by carrying the flag. The vast majority of people still don’t have a clear pictures of the things that were taking place at that time. We never really got a chance to express ourselves and even still the economics of situation is that George straight rocked it to another stratosphere. All of us wanted to express ourselves about what was taking place in Mexico City, but we just did not get the opportunity to do so. Almost 50 years later we are still trying to express the where’s and why’s.

How do you feel about the way young people are reacting to police brutality in America?

I think relative to what’s going on today if we had an opportunity to express things for young minds I don’t think you would see riots in Baltimore in terms of how you handle a situation. They try to overshadow a powerful demonstration but nonviolent demonstration with negativity. We want young people to know your can make a powerful stance without violence but you also need to be educated on the statement you are going to make. Violence will never get you to move forward and I think that is the main issue. Back in my day we weren’t putting up the middle finger or throwing rocks at law enforcement. We are still dealing with the same issues in society 47 years later so I understand all of the frustration and anger that these young people are feeling but I don’t condone hostile behavior or the stealing.

What are your thought on race relations?

If you go to the black side of town there are far more negative than there are positives. For every one negative there are fifty negatives being highlighted by the media. If you look at any metropolitan city pay attention to who controls law-enforcement and who the participants are in the law-enforcement as well. Just like we have problems in that realm we have equal amount of problems in our education system relative who we pursue the kids receiving these educational services. There are stats out about how black and whites are are disciplined . Until we realize the enormity of situation things will just get worse. I remember when I was a kid we had about three police that we’re pretty awful but honestly 95% of them got along with the community vice versa. They knew every kid on the block and they would keep the kids out of trouble which was important because it showed that they cared. What is scary is that connection isn’t there anymore and now people go to law-enforcement with issues and there is a lack of sensitivity towards the constituents in the community. Until we take all the cards and put them on the table and resolve these issues of communication and stop having fear of individuals the friction will get worse. There has to be dialogue between those in power and the people of the community.

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