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An evening with John Carlos, Olympian and renowned civil rights activist

You need to follow your conscience, follow your heart and follow your wisdom," says John Carlos, pictured at right on podium in 1968 (image courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“That image of us standing on the podium will forever be frozen in time," said John Carlos, the Olympian best known for his iconic Black Power salute at the 1968 Games."It's been a beacon for a lot of people around the world. 

“So many people find inspiration in that image.” 

On Monday, March 2, Carlos will visit the University of Toronto. His talk, which is free and open to the public, takes place at Innis Town Hall and will be followed by a screening of Salute: The Story Behind the Image.

The event is hosted by Hart House in partnership with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, the Innis College Student Society and the Multi-Faith Centre for Spiritual Practice.

A founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, Carlos is best known for his Black Power salute on the Olympic podium with Tommie Smith in 1968. The two Americans, who raised their gloved fists in support of civil rights, were joined on the podium by Australian ally and silver medallist Peter Norman.

“Myself, Tommie Smith and Peter Norman used the 1968 Olympics as our platform to voice our concerns and speak out,” said Carlos. “Although it was considered a silent protest, this was our way to get our message across.”

photo of John Carlos in t-shirt A bronze medallist for the 200 meters at those games, Carlos went on to equal the world record in the 100-yard dash and beat the 200 meters world record. After his track career, he played in both the National Football League and Canadian Football League.

The former track coach and Olympic organizer was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2003. (photo at left: Nathaniel Anderson)

“Today's athlete in my opinion is considered the ‘corporate athlete’,” Carlos said. “For today's athletes, there is little freedom to express their opinion or beliefs in a public forum as these opinions can be detrimental to the organization, to the sponsors who have chosen to endorse these athletes, and to the athlete themselves.

”It's hard to tell today’s athletes to speak up on social/political issues happening around the world or in their country as their career and financial security could be jeopardized. However, at the same time athletes need to consciously be aware of who they are and who they represent outside of their designated sport.”  

Connecting sports to issues of social justice for marginalized communities is of particular interest for undergraduate student Marta Switzer, a third-year student at Innis College majoring in equity studies with a minor in English and philosophy. As part of her participation in the Community Engaged Learning Program she is coordinating Pan Am Parallel Programming activities and events.  

“Not only do we want to encourage critical thinking around the Pan Am Games, but we want to show that sport is a powerful tool for social change,” said Switzer. “John Carlos’s story demonstrates that sport is political and that the ways in which we interact with sport matters. 

“His story teaches us that we can resist social oppression through our interactions with sport.”

Carlos is scheduled to speak at 6:30 pm. Organizers advise arriving early as space is limited. The talk will be immediately followed by a screening of Salute: The Story Behind the Image at 7:15 pm.

 

The event is the latest in a series of programming related to the Pan Am Parapan Am Games that Hart House will be rolling out in a bid to engage students with the cultural, ethnic and athletic communities of the games, organizers say. (For more information visit http://harthouse.ca/.)

(For more on the Pan Am Parapan Am Games visit: http://www.toronto2015.org/)