You remember John Carlos as the 1968 bronze medalist in the 200 meters in Mexico City, the man who — along with gold medalist Tommie Smith — raised the black-power salute to protest the treatment of African Americans back home. Mike Wise talked to Carlos at length for a column last week, but the story could only include a fraction of the interview. This is a fuller transcript.
As a side note, Wise first spoke with Carlos in 2000 while at the Sydney Olympics, when he wrote about Australian sprinter Peter Norman, who had supported the two Americans on the podium that day. In 2006, when Norman, died of a heart attack at 64, Wise again spoke to Carlos for a Post column. — DS
On today’s athlete culture in general:
“We had individuals weaned on ‘Go for the Gold’ 46 years ago, but now the professional sports mind is so attuned to the dollar. The dollar becomes more important than self. Many can’t see beyond it. They see a lifestyle that they never thought they would experience and all of a sudden it’s about becoming one of them rich dukes in society.”
On what he thinks of many athletes taking stands on social issues nowadays:
“It’s really heartening to see there are other people who stand up for social justice in this day and age, despite all the money and pressure to do otherwise. We have professional athletes that stand out and we have people who stand with them. Now, take into account that in 1968 Tommie Smith and John Carlos were on an island by themselves. There is access to other views and support for those views all over, social media and beyond. Back in the 1960s, people were setting their opinions for them.”
On Richard Sherman criticizing the NFL and Roger Goodell over Washington’s team name:
“Richard Sherman made a very valid point. You do have to look at what he said. For a tribes or reservations to say they’re uncomfortable with you using that name, and then have players say they are just as uncomfortable, and the owner stands there, saying he’ll never change the name? How do you get away with that? To this day, there has been no real negotiation, or real listening and understanding, that I know of.”
On an anonymous agent’s quote to the Post about players not wanting to take a risky stand against the league:
“These young individuals are weaned on this dollar. They see this dollar and they don’t see between the lines. They’re stuck on that dollar. They think, ‘If I step out of the box and make a statement, my contract might be in jeopardy.’ “You know what I say to them? You weren’t guaranteed $50,000 in your lifetime. Now you got $50 million and you’re no more of a man than you were before. How much money do you have to have to stand up for the injustices in society? That’s the question that should go to every one of them and all of them.”
On getting black athletes mobilized behind a Native American cause:
“I don’t understand how individuals would be more concerned about the black race than worried about the human race. What’s happened to us as black Americans, people need to understand the American Indians have gone through their trials and tribulations. We talk about slavery, but we need to understand they are going through many of the the same changes in modern society. It would be difficult for me to say I have concern for my race and not for their race….
“Peter Norman was as transparent as I was that day. It wasn’t about no race, religion or color that day, man. It was about right vs. wrong. You see a black woman getting beat up by some white guys, okay. Would you not have any concern for that woman because you’re white? Should I have no concern if I see black guys beating up a white guy? Should I not tell them, ‘Hey man, back off.’ This is what you do as a human being. You don’t jump into your color machine.”
On which athletes he respects now:
“I respect and admire LeBron James for taking a leadership role. I respect and admire Kevin Johnson for take a leadership role. These individuals, man, you’re going up against billionaires. Someone said to me, ‘Man, that demonstration that day was kind of watered down.’ I had to make them understand, man, back in 1968 we had a whole bunch of Olympians that were told we could make a statement by boycotting. They chose not to boycott. Well, every man did his own thing. Mr. Smith and I were individuals. We couldn’t get a group of individuals to do anything, but Mr. Smith and I had to come together as one to do something.”
On the Warriors backing the Clippers:
“Imagine you getting 12 guys on the same team, and they got these thoughts runnin’ through their minds, ‘Well, if I do this I might lose my contract.’ Or, ‘If I do this, the owner might not like me or something might happen to me.’ Those 12 guys got together and decided, the Golden State Warriors, to come out and say, ‘We support these guys, we don’t tolerate this.’ That’s unification. And Adam Silver, the commissioner. He made a decisive decision right away. He realized it was wrong, first, and he also realized the weight of the athletes’ convictions themselves. Mr. Goodell about to have his test one day as well. Let’s see how he responds.
On the media:
“I’d like to question ESPN, Good Morning America, Today Show and all these talk shows in regard to this with the Clippers. Man, if anybody should have been on those shows to discuss what has taken place, it should have been Tommie Smith or John Carlos or both of us.
“None of those major networks even came to us. They would ask all kinds of [BS] questions prior to this. Now we have a direct issue, stemming from the issue we had to deal with 46 years ago, not one of them picked the phone up and said, ‘We need to get Mr. Carlos and Mr. Smith on the phone to ask them what they think about this.’
“How come they never called the guys that were the original warriors in this issue we have to deal with? It’s almost like if they get us on, they might have to acknowledge we were right about what we did.”