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Activism at the Olympics

Athletes often use the Olympic stage to send a message. Into America speaks with 1968 gold medalist Wyomia Tyus about her protest at the height of the Black power movement.

About this episode:

With COVID restrictions in place, the cheering section at this year’s Olympics may be a little quieter than usual. Still, the pomp and circumstance are still on display in Tokyo, as the world’s greatest athletes come together to compete.

But the global stage isn’t just a chance to display athletic feats, it’s also an opportunity for some athletes to make a statement. Several women’s soccer teams, including the US team, have taken a knee before matches. And before the Olympics started, American hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned from the flag after winning third place during the Olympic trials.

Berry and other activist-athletes other stand on the shoulders of people like sprinter Wyomia Tyus. In 1968, Tyus showed up ready to the Mexico City Olympics ready win. But 1968 wasn’t just about the games – it was a time of widespread protest, for Black Americans in particular. So Tyus used her stage to run in solidarity with other Black athletes.

Dr. Amira Rose Davis, co-host of the feminist sports podcast Burn It All Down explains why Tyus ultimately got overshadowed, in part because she was a Black woman; and because it was the same year as one of the biggest moments in sports history: when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in the air after winning medals in the men’s 200-meter race.

Tyus says that she didn’t mind Carlos and Smith getting most of the attention that year. She understands her legacy and is excited to see Black women like Berry continuing to build on the tradition of sports activism.

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Find the transcript here.

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