When athletes speak out, venom follows

If you’re old enough, perhaps the brouhaha over the Minnesota Lynx wearing T-shirts to comment on social issues reminded you of a similar time when uppity athletes didn’t just shut up and play.

This one:

Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968. AP file

“The mood in the stadium went straight to venom,” John Carlos says. And it wasn’t just the stadium.

Carlos paid a steep price for his conscience. He writes on Vox today that it cost him his friends and it cost him his marriage.

And he says he’d do it again.

That picture of me and Tommie on the podium is the modern-day Mona Lisa — a universal image that everyone wants to see and everyone wants to be related to in one way or another. And do you know why? Because we were standing for something. We were standing for humanity.

Carlos called out today’s athletes, presumably excluding the Lynx, for not showing the courage to take a stand.

And so I’m really frustrated with a lot of today’s stars, who have an opportunity to speak up but don’t. They think they’re secure in their little bubbles of fame and wealth. They think racism and prejudice can’t touch them because they’ve achieved a certain level of success.

I want to tell them, “Your mother’s not secure in that bubble. She doesn’t have a tattoo on her forehead that says she’s part of your lineage. Your son is not secure. Your daughter is not secure. Your father is not secure. The kids you grew up with are not secure.”

Look at Deion Sanders’s son: A few years ago he tried to use a credit card at a fast-food restaurant, and they called the police — they couldn’t believe it was his credit card.

If you’re famous and you’re black, you have to be an activist. Activism is a guy who says, “I’m a multimillionaire, and I’m going to help.” Activism is transparent.

On his website, Carlos laments that even 47 years later, too many people don’t understand the protest.

“Sadly, many people misinterpreted our silent protest as a protest for ‘Black Power’, rather than a protest for human rights for all people throughout the world,” he writes. “For a few seconds, , Tommie, Peter, and I stood side by side not as an American, Australian, black nor white athlete, but as human beings united in one cause.”

Charles Barkley often hears the criticism from the other direction. He’s an athlete who speaks out often, and hears about it in many of the ways Carlos did.

But Barkley is hearing it today because of an appearance on ESPN in which he adopted the position of many Black Lives Matter critics.

We never get mad when black people kill each other, well that always has bothered me…,” Barkley said. “I’ve always said we as black people, if you want respect, you’ve got to give each other respect. You can’t demand respect from white people and the cops if we don’t respect each other.”

“There is some reason why there’s racial stereotypes,” he said. “Some black people are crooks.”