At a White House ceremony Thursday, President Obama praised former U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos for giving the “black power” salute in the 1968 games.
While honoring the 2016 Team USA Olympians and Paralympians in the East Room, Mr. Obama pointed out that Mr. Smith and Mr. Carlos were in the audience, calling them “legendary.”
“We’re proud of them,” Mr. Obama said. “Their powerful silent protest in the 1968 games was controversial, but it woke folks up and created greater opportunity for those that followed.”
Mr. Smith, gold medalist in the 200-meter race in 1968, and Mr. Carlos, who won the bronze in the same event, raised their black-gloved fists and bowed their heads on the medal stand during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. The crowd in Mexico City booed as they left the stand.
Mr. Smith said later it wasn’t a black-power gesture but a “human-rights salute.”
Their protest has been remembered in the context of recent actions by NFL players and other athletes who refuse to stand during the national anthem as a protest over police shootings of minorities.
During a town-hall meeting Wednesday with U.S. soldiers and their families, Mr. Obama defended the protests conducted by football players such as Colin Kaepernick.
“I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing,” Mr. Obama said. “I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot. One of thing I saw about American democracy is that it can be frustrating, but it’s the best system we’ve got.”