In 1968, the Olympics was about more than just the sports the athletes played.
Climbing the winner’s podium following his first place clinch in the 200 meter dash, Tommie Smith, didn't smile and wave to the crowd.
Instead, he raised a gloved fist to symbolize the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
On Tuesday, Smith, along with Wyomia Tyus and Harry Edwards, took another stand. The three gathered in the Greg Sutliff Auditorium in the Lewis Katz Building to share their stories of athlete activism, the legacy of the 1968 Olympics and a new wave of activism.
Edwards is not an athlete. He is a sociologist and civil rights activist, with other individuals, established the Olympic Project for Human Rights, to protest racism in the United States toward African Americans. Tyus, an Olympic sprinter, competed in Mexico City in 1968, winning two gold medals.
“I volunteered in to do what I could do with what I had to promote,” Smith said. “That promotion was the victory stand in ’68.”
Tyus had a unique perspective as a woman of color. She said she grew up in the south with parents who told her that she was a person with human rights.
Part of the 4x100 women's relay team, Tyus and her fellow athletes dedicated their medals to Smith and John Carlos, the bronze medalist who stood next to Smith on that podium. They did it to support the protest, but those moments were rarely recognized by the media, she said.
“One of the reasons we’re here on this panel is to talk about some of the work that needs to be done, and for me, one of the big things for me is the recognition of women,” Tyus said, receiving applause from the audience.
Edwards said that the statement Smith made in 1968 is still creating new conversation today 50 years later. A new wave of activism, Edwards said, came after attention from Colin Kaepernick when he took a knee in the 2016 football preseason.
Following the first time Kaepernick took a knee, Edwards asked for his cleats and jersey and sent it to the Smithsonian Institution.
“When I was asked ‘Well, why did you do that?’ I said, ‘I know where it’s going, I’ve seen it before,’” Edwards said.
Tyus saw more than racial disparity. She helped start the Women's Sports Foundation alongside tennis player Billie Jean King, and said they needed to honor the excellence of women in athletics.
She also developed the foundation as a way for young girls to see “sheroes” as people to look up to and admire.
“These athletes from 1968 were not only members of the greatest track and field Olympic team that the United States has ever fielded,” Edwards said, “but also some of the most courageous, informed and committed athletes in American history.”