Friday, October 17, 2008

Thanks for the post, Yem!

My friend and debate-mate Yem shared this article on facebook, and I thought I'd post a link to it here, too. It's about Peter Norman, the Australian athlete who shared a podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, the pair who created history by raising their fists in arguably the most famous and poignant Black Power salute.

It turns out that Norman played a part in the medal celebration/protest as well, by wearing a badge from the Olympic Project for Human Rights that Smith and Carlos had given him, both of whom remained friends with him long after the event. As a result, the Australian Olympics committee omitted his participation in future Olympic events; not only that, it was as if they had omitted his contribution to Australian sport history as well by excluding him in future Olympic ceremonies as well. He passed away under a shroud of alcohol and painkillers, a broken man. Recently his nephew Matthew released a documentary about him, titled Salute, and hopefully, with this BBC article and the film's exposure, more people will recognize this historic moment.

It has been a subject of discussion, even in my debate days, about whether or not athletes should be allowed these sorts of expressions during international events. On the one hand, there is the opinion that personal politics play no part when representing a country; there is the possibility of inciting anger or emotional harm on the public, and it could be harmful for the "image" of a nation. However in this case it reflected something the black community in the States have repressed for so long, and this was during the height of the Civil Rights movement; an opportunity for these achievers to bring to light a message: "we are important, we are significant, we're not to be ignored or maligned anymore, we're all equals." After all it was the collective decision of the three medal winners to do what they did, and they were celebrated for it. It just so happens that the Australian Olympic Committee saw it differently.

Jesse Owens proved to Hitler that his Aryan supremacy was a myth, and was recognized for it. Smith and Carlos were seen as world-beating heroes. Peter Norman was unfairly treated, plain and simple, and he deserves his due. Because in the end simple humanity transcends racial lines.

Vote Obama '08!

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