Rolling Out

Track and field Olympian Bob Beamon talks the promise and platform for Black men

Olympians Bob Beamon and John Carlos (Photo by @Sistarazzi for Steed Media Service)
Olympians Bob Beamon and John Carlos (Photo by @Sistarazzi for Steed Media Service)

If you knew about the Mexico Olympics back in 1968, then the name Bob Beamon was certainly a hot topic of your conversation. Beamon is a former American track and field athlete who is notoriously known for setting the world record in the long jump, which has not been achieved in over two decades. The New York native received major accolades for his success but there were  also thousands of stadium seats filled hateful spectators throughout the games. During the Mexico Olympics, racism was alive and well, with Beamon being in the spotlight, he and his teammates were at the core of the racial divide.

“It didn’t matter that I was the best at what I did in terms of track and field people only saw the color of my skin,” said Beamon. It goes without saying that African Americans were dominating during the ’68 games but they weren’t receiving million-dollar contracts like Floyd Mayweather or Kobe Bryant for their talents. Despite not having access to the best training facilities Beamon and several other Olympians were still equipped to compete on an international level. There contributions laid an infrastructure for black men to play a role in professional sports. The difference between back then and now is we raised our voices as athletes against racism but now they are more concerned about materialism and who has the biggest contact.”

Beamon has great insight on the Mexico Olympics and recently shared his unfiltered thoughts with rolling out about the comparison of police brutality in the ’60s and present-day America, the effects of racial discrimination on today’s youth, and the danger black men are facing in America.

Read what else he has to say. –lauren martinez

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

The backdrop was George Foreman. There were a lot of things really happening during the games and one of the things that happened was him winning a gold medal in the heavyweight division. At the same time, he put things in a situation where we all had an understanding that no matter what happened we were all still black Americans. You will notice that as he carried the flag across the field he made sure that he pointed it north, west, east, and south. His backdrop was that there were so many bad things going on but once again he made us all feel proud to be Americans. If we had to do a report card he could very well say what his thoughts are about where we are today in comparison to what we were doing back then.

What are your thoughts on the events happening in Baltimore and Ferguson?

Here’s what I’m afraid of for our young brothers, and I say particularly our young brothers are in danger. There are no feelings about them being apart of the normal things people do in America. It’s hard for them to get jobs, attend school, or even just simply walk down the street.

It’s almost like we as black men have been forgotten. I have a sense that when you see some of the brothers upset they have a feeling that they have nothing to lose and this is very dangerous. America has to listen because we have to get these things together.

To me these issues won’t get better until people start listening. I think that it’s a different kind of party than what we had in the 60s where he had “we shall overcome” and if somebody knocked you down we would get up and keep walking. If you notice the people running the city have a different type of psyche then those in authority during the 60s. While being concerned about getting things right but they’re also fearful of this thing erupting. I really feel that America needs to wake up and pay attention. We had things going on in the 60’s that helped us grow. We had the neighborhood youth core where we understood the ethics of what it meant to value ourselves. At the end of the day I understand there frustration but I just want them to be safe and be wise in the choices that they make when standing up for their own rights.

Do you see sports as a platform for initiating change?

In the 60s, athletes were there for the love of the sport and you could be concerned that you were a good athlete but you also realized where you came from. I didn’t have fifty million dollar contract in my favor and management telling me what do say and not to say. That is the problem with today is that people get so caught up in the hype that they start to forget who they are. If you don’t know who you are how are you going to stand up for someone else.

How many of these guys actually go back home and tell these young men to go to school because everyone is not going to be able to be in the NBA? We need doctors, lawyers, and educators in society. In all major sports these athletes should be on TV encouraging young people and it’s sad because this is something they could have been doing years ago.

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