In 1968 at the Olympic Games, American athlete Tommie Smith took the podium after winning gold at the 200 meters, with his teammate John Carlos at bronze. They both were shoeless in black socks, with a black glove. They stood and made a fist, wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. Peter Norman the Australian stood there at silver. He wore the badge as well, and was known to be an outspoken critic of the White Australia Policy.
Tommie and John both raised a fist and dropped their head when The Star Spangled Banner played. It was a simple but powerful gesture identified by the media at the time as “Black Power,” identified by Smith in his autobiography as a “human rights” gesture. It was extremely controversial back then, loudly shouted down by angry red faced men established in well regarded word outlets. “Ignoble”, they decided. “Juvenile!” they sniffed. The usual assembly of dismissive rhetoric. History remembers it better than it was received at the time. Especially here, at San José State University. This was where the bronze and gold medalists went to university. This is their training ground. And they are proud to be so.
There’s a gigantic statue on campus of the two men standing like gods with their fists upraised, that defiant bold gesture immortalised to inspire future generations of students here. Peter Norman’s spot is left unoccupied, but with a plaque encouraging passers by to join them and raise a fist in solidarity. I like interactive art. I have no doubt at all that all human beings should be treated equally. I stood and raised a fist, a little embarrassed, a little galvanised.
Now I’m watching the modern day giants here. The Spartans. They aren’t quite as big as the statue. But some of them are monstrously large. I had one of them saying “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow!” for me. If I’d pissed him off he could’ve made me into jam.
They are playing the San Diego Aztecs at American football. “Just so you know, we are almost certainly going to lose,” we are told as we go in. Good to be warned. Not that I understand it completely yet, but I’m getting better at it now. It’s a lot more stoppystarty than football football because it’s designed with commercial breaks in mind. But it’s still a fun night at the game.
And they lost alright. Only by 10. 27 to 17. And I saw some very good throwing and catching happening even to my amateur eye. Nobody did anything very controversial, although number 79 got a little bit fighty towards the end causing the enthusiastic drunk guy behind me to loudly call him out. The stadium’s small enough that the player would’ve heard “Hey, 79! You’re an asshole!”
This has been a pleasant residency. Tomorrow we will finally get the chance to go and look at thousand year old trees, but for now it’s just about enjoying the last vestiges of warmth before Indiana and then Colorado bring in the cold winds that blow.