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)

Australian Paralympic History Project Update: September 2017

Photograph of Australian Paralympic team member Katy Parish in the long jump at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London

I have had an update from Tony Naar, the Facilitator of the Australian Paralympic History Project, about the progress of the project.

The Australian Paralympic Committee uses the hashtag #APCOnThisDay to post items on its social media channels (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) to celebrate the history of the movement by recognising prominent birthdays and anniversaries.

An example from earlier this year:

The tweets are usually linked to the Wikipedia article about the athlete or event. Tony notes that these posts are among the most popular that the APC does. This is a great way to bring the history project to life and to wider public attention.

The e-history project at the University of Queensland (with Murray Phillips and Gary Osmond) is reaching an exciting phase. The website to host the e-history has been completed and a workshop is scheduled for Brisbane on 22 September 2017 to start to populate the site. There will be a second workshop, in conjunction with a Wikipedia workshop, in Sydney in November 2017.

The e-history site will bring together all the threads of the project that have been assembled since 2010, including the Wikipedia articles, the photographs, the oral history interviews, film footage such as the Don Worley collection and the APC’s own video collection.

The e-history is scheduled for public launch early in 2018.

The Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea, are approaching. Greg Blood has created a Wikipedia article about Australia’s involvement at the Games, and there will be lots of work to be done on individual athlete articles in coming months as the Australian athletes are nominated and announced.

The APC is contacted regularly by past team members to loan us scrapbooks and photos for scanning, or to donate a range of items, from clothing to ephemera to equipment. This will need to be managed, recorded and stored appropriately. At present, much of this work is undertaken by Pat Ollerenshaw.

Tony shared news of a new generation of APC history volunteers. Currently three interns from the University of Western Sydney are working with the APC on the project.Two of the interns are working on implementing a strategy to recruit archivists and librarians to assist in managing and cataloguing our extensive collections. One is working on updating the contact lists of past athletes. All three have been updating Wikipedia articles.

Tony is also working with students from the intern program at Macquarie University. A group of 12 students from that program has just started working on implementing a strategy to recruit young volunteer Wikipedia editors through volunteer communities at universities and in the wider community.

One suggestion that has emerged is the creation of a Facebook page for the APC History group. The interns feel that this may encourage easier participation from younger volunteers and also be an effective communications tool to complement this email list.

It was great to receive Tony’s update. The project is in its seventh year and has been an exemplary way to share news of the Paralympic movement. I am particularly excited that the volunteer community is now starting to engage with young people and the energy they will bring to the sharing of history.

Members of the Australian Paralympic Team, led by Team official Kevin Betts, march in the Opening Ceremony of the 1960 Rome Paralympic Games

Photo Credits

Photograph of Australian Paralympic team member Katy Parrish at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London. By Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48612437

Members of the Australian Paralympic Team, led by Team official Kevin Betts, march in the Opening Ceremony of the 1960 Rome Paralympic Games. By Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44615747.

The Spirit of Sport

Tokyo 1964: Great Britain's Ann Packer (left) silver medallist acknowledges defeat at the hands of Australia's Betty Cuthbert (centre), winner of the 400m. Bronze medallist Judith Amooreis on the right.

Introduction

Two events this week in the world of athletics have sent me off thinking about the essence of sport. By coincidence, a friend, Daniel O’Leary has been thinking about spirituality in sport too.

Daniel and I share a fascination with one of the events of the week, Usain Bolt’s 100m final at the World Athletics Championships. I watched it on TV live when I was in England. Daniel was there trackside.

The second event of the week for me was news of Betty Cuthbert‘s death.

Daniel has given me permission to share his thoughts on his experience of being present at the 100m final in London. He and I have been discussing sport for the last thirty-five years since we were first introduced by my wife Sue at St Mary’s College in Strawberry Hill.

This is what he wrote.

Gold of the Spirit

A picture of Daniel O'LearySeated near the finish we held our breath. The intense hush was shattered by a gun. Bolt blasted from the blocks. The noise was deafening from a packed stadium. It was pure spectacle. Inside ten seconds it was over. Our hero, after all, was mortal.

But in the drama of the day, was he more than that? At the bitter point of his defeat, did he not prove himself to be a golden hero of the soul? While thousands vented their gall on the new and quickly humiliated champion Justin Gatlin, we watched the warm exchange of words and hugs between victor and vanquished. There was a grace in the way Usain Bolt acknowledged his shared humanity with his conqueror, showed his respect and appreciation for another great athlete. ‘’He has done his time,’ he said later,’ he is a good person, he has worked hard, he is my friend and an excellent person’. And then there was an iconic moment, carrying traces of the Prodigal Son, when Gatlin bent his knee before Usain Bolt.

Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin embrace

At a pinnacle of a celebration of worldwide sporting achievement it was a sad and shameful day for the furious and booing fanatics described by champion Welsh hurdler Dai Greene as ‘savage’. ‘The media and the masses have turned Justin Gatlin into a villain,’ tweeted James Ellington, former British international 100m sprint champion. It is one thing to be deeply disappointed that your hero lost; it is quite another to spit out bile on the one who ended his dream. If anyone lost in disgrace it was the ‘fans’. They clouded a happy summer’s evening that was full of beauty, blessing and delight for families into an ugly mist of personal pique. The weather changed then and many sensitive souls felt a chill. In a world riven by dark forces another golden opportunity for a brief but unique experience of universal harmony was shattered.

There is a deep and invisible power at the heart of the sporting life. Australian Herb Elliott, who took the 1500 metres gold medal in Rome (1960), wrote of the ‘spirituality’ of athletic competition. So did North American Ed Moses, another world champion (400m), when he spoke of the influence and force of sport to unite the world. And so did Nelson Mandela when he said that sport ‘can create hope and peace where there was previously only despair’. Golf hero Paul McGinley who witnessed some really demeaning behaviour at a Ryder Cup competition wrote, ‘intense competitiveness that also touches the soul is the essence of great sport.’ There is more to sport than the medals.

There is an invincible, un-extinguishable light of the spirit that lasts longer than the shining of a gold medal. We were not blessed with such an enlightenment on Saturday night, 5 August. But we do have sublime examples of it.

One such moment happened in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. World Champion Jesse Owens was watching his dream slipping away. He had fouled his first two attempts at the long jump. His blond German competitor Ludwig ‘Lutz’ Long explained to him how he could avoid a final foul by using a simple strategy. Owens took his advice and went on to win the gold medal with a final leap of 8.06 metres. And Hitler stormed out of the stadium. Moved by the spontaneous graciousness of his closest rival, Jess Owens later said, ‘It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have won and they would not provide the gold- plating for the twenty-four carat friendship that I felt for Lutz Long at that moment’.

Betty

Daniel and I have not discussed Betty. Daniel was involved in athletics when Betty was running in Melbourne and Tokyo.

I was just four at the time of the Melbourne Olympics when Betty ran into history

This was Betty in 2012

Betty’s personal best times were:

  • 100 metres 11.4s
  • 200 metres 23.2s
  • 400 metres 52.01s

Her personal best for the 200 metres would have positioned her just 0.8s behind the winners of both semi-finals in London 61 years later. Her 100 metres time would have put her 0.55s behind the winner in London. Her 400 metre time would have put her in contention for a 7th place in the London final and 2.12s off the winner Phyllis Francis.

Spirit as the New Edge

Daniel and I came to Usain Bolt from different epistemological traditions. I think we share a profound humanistic commitment to the spirit of sport. Betty epitomises everything I hold dear about sport. I love the idea that an 18 year-old can arrive in Melbourne and win three gold medals.

Betty Cuthbert flying at the Melbourne 1956 Games is a feature of Chapter 15 of the book From Athens With Pride, written by Harry Gordon and launched in Sydney on 9 May 2014.

However, the picture at the top of this post is my enduring memory of Betty. I saw her race in Tokyo in 1964 on a black and white television in my home in North Wales. The commentary that day focused on Ann Packer who won the silver medal for Great Britain. But I do remember the commentator, David Coleman, making specific mention of the spirit that connected all three athletes at the end of the race.

I am not making an argument for a golden age but do want to champion a different kind of sport, at all levels.

I hope that we can stop talking about podiums and talk more about a common humanity that is expressed through athletic effort. This effort is ethically driven and focused on process rather than outcome.

Photo Credits

1964 Final (AOC Media Centre)

Daniel O’Leary (Begin with the Heart)

Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt (Daily Star)

1956 (AOC Media Centre)