Deciding to protest

A year ago, Colin Kaepernick made a decision to protest about an issue that had profound significance for him.

First, he sat during the playing of a national anthem at an American football game in which he was taking part. Then, at a subsequent game, he knelt during the anthem.

Michael Dyson wrote about Colin’s courage:

Kaepernick has been accused of being unpatriotic, a traitor to the nation, a disruptive, self-aggrandizing narcissist, and a loathsome human being who disrespects the military. Kaepernick’s situation highlights just how little progress we’ve made in this country …

He added:

What some critics are missing is that Kaepernick is the best kind of American there is: one willing to criticize his country precisely because he loves it so much. Kaepernick is not a traitor; he is a true patriot.

Kaepernick has bravely touched the third rail of American sport, one that we have not yet contended with, and the issue that we continue to deflect. When a black athlete bravely speaks up, we punish him.

Michael is a sociology professor at Georgetown University. His reflections on Colin took me back to Harry Edwards’ discussion of the black power salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

On the podium that day was an Australian athlete, Peter Norman. During the medal ceremony, Peter, who won the silver medal, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge. Tommie and John have shared that on that day, Peter said to them “I’ll stand with you”.

Steve Georkakis (2012) noted “the salute effectively ended Norman’s career”.

Steve notes:

Australia was not a crucible of tolerance. Norman, a teacher and guided by his Salvation Army faith took part in the Black Power salute because of this opposition to racism and the White Australia Policy.

In 1972 he was overlooked for the Munich Games even though he had on numerous occasions made the qualifying time. Norman’s name does not appear in books which talk about the 100 greatest Athletes or the 100 greatest moments in Australian sport.

Peter died in 2006. He received an apology from the Australian Parliament six years later. The apology reads:

That this House:

(1) recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record;

(2) acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the ‘black power’ salute;

(3) apologises to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006; and

(4) belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.

Tommie and John were two of the bearers at Peter’s funeral. Their shared story and the ongoing debate about Colin’s protest are powerful reminders about the courage needed to protest, particularly in sporting contexts … and the moral clarity that invites us to join together.

In his eulogy for Peter, John said:

We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat and he said, ‘I’ll stand with you.’ I expected to see fear in his eyes, I didn’t. I saw love… He never flinched on the dais, he never turned his eyes, he never turned his head. You guys have lost a great soldier.

Photo Credits

Kaepernick (Brook Ward, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Black Power Salute (Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers), Public Domain)

Tommie Smith and John Carlos at Peter Norman’s funeral (The Conversation, 13 October 2012)

2 thoughts on “Deciding to protest”

    1. Thank you, Tim. Peter inspired me in my anti apartheid protests in the 1970s. Hope you are well.

Leave a Reply