John Carlos reflects on 1968 Olympics criticism by Brent Musburger: He's 'been proven to be wrong'

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1968 Olympic athlete John Carlos speak about their experience as Olympians who participated in Mexico City in 1968 during the 50th Anniversary of the Defining Moment in Sports Social Activism Historic Town Hall at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Carlos and Tommie Smith gave a black-gloved salute on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
John Carlos, an Olympic bronze medalist, spoke about a column by Brent Musburger written after his Olympic protest in 1968. (AP)

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved first on the Olympic stage and became part of an iconic image spoken of to this day.

In 1968, the two Americans finished first and third, respectively, in the 200m at the Mexico City Olympics. Their political move, called a “black power salute” though the two men would rather it be called a “human rights salute,” drew the ire of Americans including Brent Musburger. Musburger, then a sportswriter, wrote the two looked “like a couple of black-skinned storm troopers.”

Jemele Hill — herself a target of “stick to sports” attacks — hosted a panel for The Atlantic on Thursday in Washington, D.C., discussing athletes and activism with Carlos as one of the speakers.

Hill asked Carlos if he received an apology from Musburger for the column and the 73-year-old shrugged it off, per USA today Sports, by saying the commentator “doesn’t mean anything to me” and was “proven to be wrong.”

Musburger called it ‘juvenile gesture’

Musburger was 29 when he wrote the column, headlined by the Chicago American staff as “Bizarre Protest By Smith, Carlos Tarnishes Medals,” per a 2012 article by The Nation that published the entire piece.

Before becoming an accomplished announcer for ABC and ESPN, he wrote that Smith will be “remembered as the militant black” and referenced it as a way to “dramatize their protest against white America.”

Never once does he share the reason for their protest, instead writing they “knew how to deliver whatever it was they were trying to deliver on international television, thus insuring maximum embarrassment for the country that is picking up the tab for their room and board.”

Musburger is now 80 and per USA Today could not be reached for comment. He is currently the play-by-play voice for the Oakland Raiders.

Carlos: Musburger was proven wrong

Carlos has put aside anything Musburger wrote 51 years ago and gave a simple answer to Hill’s question that brought applause from the audience.

From USA Today Sports:

"Well you know, Brent Musburger doesn't even exist in my mind. So I don't even know. He didn't mean anything to me 51 years ago. He doesn't mean anything to me today. Because he's been proven to be wrong."

History has been kinder to the two athletes. In 2008 they received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. The award was given in part, ESPN announced, to “reinforce the importance and relevance on this story” as “issues of race and social inequality remain an integral part of our daily discourse, enveloping both sports and politics.”

Carlos against ‘stick to sports’

From White House invites to social justice issues, athletes are often taking a stand only to hear “stick to sports” or “shut up and play” from fans. Carlos heard the same thing in the 1960s, a decade marked by the civil rights protests and anti-war movement.

From USA Today Sports:

"I don't pay attention to people that don't make sense," Carlos said. "They didn't make any sense to Jack Johnson, or to Jackie Robinson, because they told them the same thing. ... All of them received the same note that they put under my door: 'Just shut up and play the game.'

"I'm not concerned about those individuals who tell me to just go out there and play sports. Because before I was an athlete, I was a human being. When I die, I will be that human being."

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