Nearly 52 years after his iconic protest at the 1968 Olympics, John Carlos watched the Milwaukee Bucks refuse to play their playoff game Wednesday with a deep sense of pride.
"I admire, respect and cherish the vision of those young individuals," Carlos told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday night, "to take the initiative, to say life is valued far greater than trophies and championships and anything with basketball."
The Bucks declined to play Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake is alive but now paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father and the family's attorney.
The Bucks' protest prompted the NBA to postpone all of its remaining games for the day. The WNBA, MLS and a handful of MLB teams followed suit.
For Carlos, 75, the protests signify the latest chapter in "a history of Black people fighting for the same causes, the same situations." That history, he said, predates the day in 1968 when he, along with gold medalist Tommie Smith, raised a black-gloved fist on the podium in Mexico City after winning bronze in the 200-meter dash. And he hopes more is to come.
"I would hope that the thing snowballs," Carlos said. "I hope it goes beyond just basketball."
John Carlos (right) and Tommie Smith stare downward and extend gloved hands skyward in a Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics. (Photo: STF, AP)
Carlos said it's time for team owners — particularly in the NFL — to fully join their players in fighting systemic racism and police brutality in the United States. He said owners have the ability to shape opinions in "the minds of those that you might say are elitist in society," and he believes they now have a responsibility to do so.
"You know, owners carry a lot of weight. The NFL carries a lot of weight," Carlos said. "… You can’t allow Black people to constantly be murdered in the streets, and you sit in your ivory tower and you close your eyes to it.
"What happens if they were to gun down a major NFL player? You think they would be silent then? And that’s extremely possible. So they have to do what they can do to stop the racist killings that are taking place throughout our society."
Carlos was then asked about the NFL's renewed embrace of social justice issues since the death of George Floyd in May, and whether he believes the statements from owners and the league were genuine.
"It’s hard to say whether something is genuine if (expletive) has been going on forever and you never said anything," he replied.
Carlos said NFL owners, and those in other leagues, should have been speaking up about racism and police brutality long before it became financially advantageous to do so. And he emphasized that the incidents of 2020 are not new. The death of Black men at the hands of police, he said, are not new. The killing of unarmed Black men is not new.
"If I sound like I’m worked up, trust me brother — I am worked up," Carlos said at one point. "(Expletive) been going on too long, man. Way too long."
Carlos said he's come to believe that "justice and equality move at a snail’s pace," because for decades "society's had blinders on." He believes Floyd's killing changed that. Now, he just wants to see more decent people speak up.
"How are we going to turn the corner, man, if a guy tells me ‘Oh, I have a good decent soul, a good heart’ but he doesn’t speak out when he sees an atrocity happen before his eyes, again and again and again?" Carlos said. "You’re not part of the solution. You’re part of the problem. And as meek and as mild as you might think it is, when you keep your voice down and don’t raise your voice about what you see every day, you’re part of the problem."
That's why the Bucks' decision Wednesday, to raise their voices, was so significant, Carlos explained.
"They ain’t trying to tear the arena down. They ain’t trying to destroy America," he said. "All they’re doing is crying out by saying, ‘Enough is enough. And if you won’t do something, we will.'"
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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