[Marxism] The Greatest Olympics: Smith and Carlos on Top Again

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 19 08:06:46 MDT 2005


>[This article describes not only the event, but what Smith and Carlos
>suffered when they returned to the land of freedom.]
>http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,4-1832384_1,00.html
>
>America finally honours rebels as clenched fist becomes salute
>By Owen Slot
>Tommie Smith and John Carlos were hailed as heroes this week but it was
>not so 37 years ago.
>THEY unveiled the statue, accompanied by a rendition of The
>Star-Spangled Banner, as the dying evening sunlight stretched across a
>picturesque stretch of lawn guarded by grand old trees. And this time,
>when they heard the anthem, Tommie Smith and John Carlos held their
>heads high.

NY Times, October 19, 2005
A Center Fakes Right, Goes Left, Speaks Out
By IRA BERKOW

WASHINGTON - It is sometimes believed that the only current event most 
professional athletes know or care about is the status of their contract. 
Not in all cases, to be sure, and certainly not in the case of Wizards 
center Etan Thomas, who is entering his fifth season in the National 
Basketball Association.

On Sept. 24, for one prominent example, the 6-foot-9, 256-pound Thomas, a 
graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in business management and a 
cascade of dreadlocks, spoke about his resistance to the war in Iraq and 
recited his poetry on the subject before hundreds of thousands of people at 
the Operation Ceasefire rally, held in the shadow of the Washington 
Monument. He read from his poem "Bring Our Heroes Home":

The essence of their happiness
Cloaked in a web of lies
As far as their eyes can see
They're doomed.

It is included in Thomas's recently published paperback of poems, "More 
Than an Athlete" (Moore Black Press). Thomas, 27, writes with passion about 
the necessity of education for young people, argues against the death 
penalty, laments teenage pregnancy and deplores the insensitivity, as he 
sees it, of the Bush administration toward blacks. He also skewers the gang 
mentality of some in the inner city.

Another of his poems reads:

Brothers be earning bachelor's degrees in thuggenometry
Embracing the art of criminal mind states
Yes, we've been done wrong, but we do each other worse.

"I feel a necessity to speak out," Thomas said in an interview. "I want to 
be the type of athlete that Muhammad Ali was. Dealing straightforward with 
the issues of the day. There's just too much going on for me to be quiet."

He said he also admired Arthur Ashe, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Billie 
Jean King for taking principled stances.

In the introduction to his book, Thomas writes that he uses poetry "to 
speak to young people." He adds: "The people who kids usually pay the most 
attention to are athletes, entertainers, rappers, actors, etc. I don't care 
what Charles Barkley says, I am a role model whether I want to be or not. I 
use my position as an athlete as a platform. Providing a positive message 
to young people. Kids know more nowadays than most of their parents can 
even imagine, and if I can be a positive light for them, I will."

Thomas recalled that when he was in elementary school in Tulsa, Okla., a 
state basketball hero, Wayman Tisdale, then in the N.B.A., spoke to his class.

"He talked about not letting people discourage you from your dreams," 
Thomas said. "There will be people always trying to tear you down, that you 
should ignore them and go after your goals. It was a great message and I 
listened to every word he said. Teachers and parents may say the same 
thing, but coming from a professional athlete, well, that was something you 
really had to take to heart. And I did."

Thomas said he and his brother grew up in a single-parent household. His 
mother, Deborah, was a schoolteacher, and divorced from their father, 
Antone, an engineer for an aviation company.

"We had enough to eat, but on a schoolteacher's salary, we certainly didn't 
have all the luxuries," Thomas recalled. "I learned that if you're going to 
make it, you have to have an education." He received a basketball 
scholarship to Syracuse and took his studies seriously.

"I hated math," he said, "but I felt that business management would get me 
someplace, and so I went in that direction."

Thomas has been active with causes involving the American Civil Liberties 
Union and the Congressional Black Caucus, and helped raise money and 
supplies for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Do you really think, had this been a rich, lily-white suburban area, 
instead of one mostly poor and black, that got hit, the administration 
would have waited five days to get food or water to those people?" Thomas 
said. "When the hurricane hit in Florida, Bush made sure those people got 
those supplies the next day."

Thomas said: "I hear people like Bill O'Reilly saying things along the 
lines of 'Poor people are poor because they want to be.' Has he no sense of 
reality? And when Barbara Bush went into a Houston shelter that was housing 
the New Orleans evacuees, she said how much happier they must be than in 
the bad housing they had lived in. I was amazed. These people don't seem to 
have a clue about poor people."

After a stance he has taken receives publicity, other N.B.A. players have 
come by, "sometimes just before a game, and I get a pat on the back, and 
told, 'Good going.' "

"Not everyone is comfortable with standing up," Thomas added. "But I know 
it does get appreciated."

He said he had received no negative feedback, from the league, his team or 
anyone else about taking political positions.

"In a way I'm surprised by that, and in a way I'm not," Thomas said.

He makes frequent visits to schools to speak to students and addresses 
these issues.

"I go into a school in Baltimore and see that there are 40 kids to a class, 
and no one has a computer," he said. "I go into a suburban school there, 
and there's 16 to a class, and they've got computers. Something is 
desperately wrong, and the administration can't seem to understand or face it."

He also said that the youngsters seem to feel that even some teachers want 
them to fail, or are not interested in how well they do.

"That's why I'm not for vouchers to private schools," he said. "We should 
invest in the public schools and make them better. America's future depends 
on it."

But children and their parents, he said, must take responsibility 
themselves. Attaining good grades does not make someone a "geek or a nerd," 
as Thomas said.

Athletes have a responsibility as well, he said, and the emphasis on 
conspicuous consumption is not helpful. One young boy asked Thomas why he 
doesn't wear jewelry.

"He told me I didn't even have a watch on, let alone one 'surrounded with 
pink ice,' " Thomas said. "I told him I never wanted to be like everyone 
else, that I didn't want to follow the crowd, that I wanted to be original, 
and be true to myself. I said, 'You have to be happy with who you are.' "

Thomas's poetry explores the lack of self-worth among young people in 
cities, like the girl who "liked the attention" she got for sexual favors. 
Thomas concluded in a poem:

This disastrous calamity
No ifs ands or maybes
She's fifteen years old
A baby having a baby.


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