My 15-minute training session with a disgraced Olympic athlete

dex digital
Jan 5, 2015 · 9 min read

‘Good race. I like your style.’

I smiled at that last compliment, because I knew exactly what he meant.

Me working my way to the front of the pack in a cross-country race, circa 2000.

Anyway, Mr. Carlos had some things he wanted to tell me.

Honestly, I can’t remember most of it. I remember some snippets, but at one point, he said something that conflicted with my usual training regimen. I interrupted him, and started to tell him how I preferred to train, and how well it worked for me.

‘Look, brother. Forget all this track stuff, you need to learn how to listen.’

I shut my mouth. I heard the blood rushing through my ears again. Throughout my four year track career, I won a lot of races, lost a few, and almost got in a couple fights. But that one line is my clearest memory. I have trouble remembering much of anything else.

Uh, wait, hold on.

I never really introduced Mr. Carlos properly. The Mr. Carlos I met is the gentleman on the rightmost podium in the pictures below:

A monument at San Jose State University.

So, let’s get back to those girls and their banned ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts.

If we take the example of the 1968 Olympics, there’s a precedent for what’s happening at that high school basketball tournament. We’re in the middle of a four-step process that seems to repeat pretty often.

Here are the steps:

  1. Somebody makes a protest against an injustice
  2. People get offended, because they would rather not have to think about injustices during their entertainment time, so they
  3. ask protestors to ‘take their politics elsewhere’. And then, years later,
  4. They realize they were wrong.
A sample of products available via a quick Google of ‘1968 black power shirt’.

‘We are a small school district that simply does not have the resources to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, students and guests at the tournament should someone get upset and choose to act out.’

Essentially, Principal Walker is saying that she ‘doesn’t want any trouble’. She probably doesn’t realize that, less than fifty years ago, that was the same line they used in the Jim Crow South:

Ferguson’s police department. [via]

Also, Walker should be careful labeling things ‘political statements’.

After all, rejecting uncomfortable things by labeling them ‘political’ also has precedent in the 1968 Olympics. The official reason given for banning Tommie Smith and John Carlos was that the Olympics are no place for a political statement, much less something that was a ‘Nazi-like salute’.

right: the German gymnastics medalists in 1936.


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