Boise State’s next opponent is San Jose State. The game is this Friday night, and although as a morning person it pains me to say so, once again the kickoff time will be up to the good people at ESPN2. Of course, if anyone in the nation is used to staying up late for football, it’s Boise State fans.
But about the San Jose State Spartans…this year, as you know, there’s been controversy regarding what players do during the national anthem. According to etiquette, Americans are expected to stand at attention with their right hand over their heart. It’s also usually acceptable to stand with your hands at your sides. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand, instead kneeling as a protest against the treatment of black citizens by police officers. And that follows a year in which shootings involving those two groups have received an unprecedented amount of publicity.
Many Americans think it’s disrespectful not to stand. Others have backed up Kaepernick’s move. Entire teams have knelt during the anthem, and just this week a woman performing the song before an NBA game sang the whole thing while kneeling. No matter what you think of the protests, it might be important for you to know that they’re nothing new.
In 1968, San Jose State had a great track team. Two Spartan athletes, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, became founding members that year of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. The OPHR called for a boycott of the summer Olympic games in Mexico City unless the International Olympic Committee met their four demands. First, the countries of South Africa and Rhodesia needed to be banned from the games because of their policies of apartheid. Second, they wanted the heavyweight championship restored to Muhammad Ali. Third, IOC chairman Avery Brundage would have to resign. And finally, more black coaches needed to be hired.
By the time of the games, the Olympic Committee had agreed to ban South Africa and Rhodesia, and that satisfied enough people that the call for a boycott of the games ended. But some American athletes felt that a visible demonstration of protest was still necessary.
In Mexico City, in the finals of the 200-meter sprint, Tommie Smith won the gold, Peter Norman of Australia the silver and John Carlos the bronze. On the medal stand, during the anthem, Smith raised his right fist in a black power salute. Carlos raised his left fist in the same way. Both men wore black gloves and went without shoes to symbolize black poverty.
The International Olympic Committee was not amused, and Smith and Carlos were kicked out of the Olympic Village and had to find their own way home. Even the silver medalist, Norman, was shunned in Australia for wearing an OPHR button given to him by Carlos. In Australia at that time, the native blacks, known as aborigines, were not even legally considered human.
Years have passed since the 1968 games, and today John Carlos and Tommie Smith are members of the Track and Field Hall of Fame. Peter Norman died in 2006, and both Carlos and Smith were pall bearers at his funeral. And today, on the campus of San Jose State University, the alma mater of both Smith and Carlos, there exists a full-color statue of the two athletes on the medal stand with raised fists. Carlos has also repeatedly requested that Norman one day be added to the statue.
48 years have passed, and a lot has changed in the world, but there are still organizations protesting racial inequality, and there are still plenty of people who don’t like that fact.
But at San Jose State, there is no controversy. Just a reminder that it’s not over yet.