20 June 2021
By Göran R Buckhorn
British Sky Sports News celebrated Juneteenth yesterday with a programme where an American eight played an important ‘political’ role at the 1968 Olympic Games.
After more than 12 years in cyberspace, HTBS has featured a lot of rowing history on these pages. As a matter of fact, we have published 3,861 articles (including this one), so anyone who is looking for information on rowers, crews, regattas, trophies, medals, etc. is very likely to end up on HTBS to try to find an answer. If they don’t find it, many send off an e-mail to the website’s editor – yours truly – to see if any of the writers and historians connected to the site have an answer to their questions.
One of these was Sky Sports News in London, which celebrated Juneteenth yesterday with a programme about the American Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos who both medalled at the 200 metres at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico – Smith with a gold medal and Carlos with a bronze. When they had received their medals at the podium, they each raised an arm and, with black-gloved fists, gave the so-called Black Power salute in protest of racial inequality in their home country. They were also wearing badges for the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). They bowed their heads during the American national anthem. Peter Norman, the Australian silver medallist in the race, sympathised with Smith and Carlos and wore an OPHR badge, which he had received from Paul Hoffman, the cox of the American eight.
There were many boos when the three athletes went off the medal podium, and Smith and Carlos were sent home as they had disgraced their flag and country, or so it was said by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). However, it was under pressure from the International Olympic Committee’s head, the American Avery Brundage, known for his racist and anti-Semitic views, who forced the USOC to suspend Smith and Carlos and kick them out of the Olympic village.
Peter Norman said in a 1999 interview ‘There were boos, there were cheers, there were whistles, there were catcalls, there was every type of emotion that you could imagine that went around that stand.’
Norman didn’t get easy off from the Australian Olympic Committee and politicians back home in Australia after taking a brave stand against racial inequality. However, he later did get an apology from the Australian parliament in 2012, six years after he had died.
After the Olympics, the Harvard oarsmen, including their coach Harry Parker, who rowed in the U.S. eight, were scolded by the USOC in a nasty letter addressed to Parker. The letter can be read in its entirety in Andy Larkin’s autobiography My Life in Boats, Fast and Slow (2019); Larkin being a member of the 1968 Olympic Harvard crew.
HTBS has brought up this event and the Harvard rowers’ sympathy with the OPHR at the 1968 Olympic Games a few times: Greg Denieffe wrote about it in February 2016, Tim Koch in June 2020 and I in September 2020.
It was in mid-March an e-mail came in from one of the editors of Sky Sports News to HTBS. He had read what we had written about the Harvard crew’s involvement in the OPHR at the 1968 Olympics, including Larkin’s book. Within half an hour, an e-mail left HTBS headquarters to the American rowing historians who might be able to help Sky Sports News with material and contacts to the ’68 Harvard crew.
The results of Sky Sports News research for the 10:25 minute-programme, “The Inside Story of the Iconic Protest at the 1968 Olympics”, you will find below:
There is also a tremendously interesting 3,000-word article written by two editors of Sky Sports News about Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Peter Norman and the Harvard crew – read it here.